Lake tribal college is starting a basketball team, under the direction
of a local legend. The team will host an exhibition game Saturday
against Turtle Mountain (N.D.), and Red Lake sees the addition of
a basketball team as a chance to grow its prestige and enrollment.
LAKE, Minn. Gerald Kingbird still remembers his stats.
"I scored 19 points in the fourth quarter,"
That includes 13 points in the final 1:15
of regulation in the 1997 Minnesota State High School basketball
semifinals, leading the Red Lake High School Warriors from behind,
only to lose 117-113 to Wabasso in overtime. They were the first
all-Native team to reach the state tournament.
The people of Red Lake still remember
Saturday, Kingbird will help start a new
basketball tradition by launching the Red Lake Nation College basketball
team as its coach.
"It's exciting," he said.
Although the game will only be an exhibition
and the players may not end up on the college team, it's meant to
generate excitement for the team's launch, potentially next fall.
Until then, they'll be busy recruiting players.
The college also will be raising funds
Saturday for its upcoming expansion project.
In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Rural Development Program announced the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe
will receive a $21 million loan that will help build a new college
and government center a project that will create a new hub
for the community on the shores of Lower Red Lake north of Bemidji.
Dan King, the college's president, said
they hope to raise about $10,000 from the game.
Currently the college can hold about 130
students, which will increase to about 525 once the new school is
built, King said. The basketball team, nicknamed the Migizi (Eagles),
will play on the court in the current college building, which just
received a new floor in the past few months.
Kingbird said having a college basketball
team will give players an outlet for their skills once they're done
with high school.
"The younger guys coming out of high school,
they might not have anything to do," Kingbird said. "Maybe this
team will get them involved in a college program."
Once that basketball team is established,
King said a women's team will likely follow. After that, sports
will be introduced based on student interest.
King said they'll be playing in the Northern
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, along with schools like Oak
Hills Christian College.
The Warriors' run to the state
tournament in 1997 caught the attention of media outlets across
the state and nation.
Last year, the St. Paul Pioneer Press
named Kingbird one of the 20 greatest players in state tournament
history. He also was asked to participate in a ceremony at the 100th
anniversary of the state tournament last year.
"It's kind of a legend," King said of
the 1997 team.
After high school, Kingbird moved on to
Bemidji State University, but a full-time job and school kept him
from continuing a basketball career, he said. He now works at the
Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake.
But Kingbird didn't stay far away from
the game, playing in recreation leagues as well as coaching seventh-grade
basketball for the past six years. He was approached by King last
year to see if he had any interest in coaching a college team.
King said Kingbird will be a major asset
in recruiting players in the coming months. Some of those players,
he said, likely saw Kingbird play in high school.
"He's such a good role model and very
humble," King said. "He has the kind of personality that people
And on Saturday, he'll participate in
a three-point competition at halftime.
"A lot of people want to see that," King
said. "They want to see Gerald."
It's only natural that the college's
first sport will be basketball, the most popular sport in Red Lake.
Ron Lussier said when he started a recreation
league in Red Lake, a town of about 1,700 poeple, eight teams were
signed up. Now it's up to 16.
"I know there are some good players out
there," King said. He added that women make up 65 percent of the
current enrollment. King hopes that a basketball team will generate
interest from men who wouldn't otherwise go to college there.
"I think the main issue is that we haven't
had anything to offer them," King said. "Now
people with Red Lake Nation College uniforms and seeing that nice
court and say 'Wow.'"