Eighth Annual Basketball Game Celebrates Native American Culture at MCC – Mesa Legend
The eighth annual American Indian Recognition Game showcased the diversity of the Mesa Community College campus on Wednesday night.
The game between MCC and Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC) seemed like a normal game for the casual basketball fan. The MCC women took control of their game early and held on, hitting timely shots and making defensive saves to secure the 93-74 victory. The men fought fiercely in a defensive battle against CGCC, but in the end the T-Birds lost their second straight game in overtime with a score of 70-72.
The difference between this night and any other where the MCC basketball program fights on hardwood is what the night represents: displaying the Native American culture that makes MCC such a diverse campus for those who rarely do. experience.
Much of the history of MCC is closely tied to local Native American history. The school itself is built on the lands of the O’odham, Piipaash and Yavapai peoples. In 1964, sports teams were nicknamed the “Hokams” to honor the tribe that lived in the Salt River Valley.
Typically, between 1,000 and 1,200 Native American students representing the state’s 22 tribes attend MCC each year. The college is one of only three in the district to have a program or department that helps Indigenous students attend, succeed, and graduate from their respective colleges.
MCC has the American Indian Institute (AII), Scottsdale Community College has the American Indian Program, and South Mountain Community College has the American Indian Intercultural Center.
To display Native American culture on campus, Sam Stevens, IIA advisor and assistant coach of the women’s basketball team, created the game American Indian Recognition.
“I had seen all over the country colleges and universities doing these recognition games for native kids and I thought, why can’t we do it? We work with indigenous children directly in our centers, so why not? Stevens, who is half Navajo, said.
The game generated a lot of interest statewide in 2018, when the women’s team consisted of 5 Native American players. The program also became the first junior college to be part of Nike’s N7 program, which recognizes Native American Heritage Month across the country in college programs.
“We were the first junior college in the country to be recognized by Nike N7 as having a jersey for this specific game,” Stevens said. “We have worn this jersey every year for this particular game.”
The turquoise color of the jersey represents harmony, camaraderie and friendship.
Half-time events not only entertain attendees but also expose them to Native American culture. In 2019, MCC Hall of Fame member Garrison Tahmahkera and then-Miss Indian Arizona Audri Mitchell were recognized at halftime.
This year’s halftime entertainment was the Red Mountain Creations, a family group that performs traditional O’odham and Piipaash dances and songs. Before each game, Sweetie Cody of the Navajo Nation sang the national anthem in her native language.
Stevens said they recruit a lot of Indigenous children to join the MCC program. One characteristic that is commonly found in native basketball players is their love for basketball.
“I think passion is a big part of Native kids who participate in sports,” Stevens said. “I have played countless pickup games growing up with kids playing them just for the love of the game.”
This year, between the men’s and women’s programs, there are five Native American players: Taylor Tiulana (Tanana Chiefs Conference – Huslia Tribe d’Alaska), Myka Taliman (Navajo Nation), Stacey Begay (Navajo Nation), Jana Solee (Navajo Nation) ) and Robert ‘BJ’ Buries (Apache Nation of San Carlos).
Burries is happy to be part of a game that recognizes his culture.
“I think it’s very big. We have a lot of college hoops that are Native American, but people don’t really recognize them that much, ”Buries said.