Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lya Wodraska and Phil Miller of the Salt Lake Tribune have a powerful 3-part series on Whitehorse High School's basketball team and their star player, Derica Dickson. The reporters spent more than three months with the Whitehorse High Raiders, and found "a tale of hope and longing playing out in an unlikely place, the basketball court, on an isolated sweep of Utah's Navajo Nation."
Open the door, and the buzz surrounds you - the sound of industry. More than two dozen women hunker over sewing machines in a small room, amid piles of camouflage cloth, wordlessly stitching together military uniforms. The tiny "factory" would be unremarkable in most communities, but here in the all-but-uninhabited Utah corner of the vast Navajo reservation, where more than half of the roughly 6,000 residents live in poverty, the machines offer something far too special to take for granted: a paycheck.

As Derica Dickson passes by the factory on her way to school this February morning, the symbolism is appropriate because Dickson intends never to stop there. To her fellow Navajos, the modest business may represent opportunity, but for Dickson, a Whitehorse High student and the undisputed star of the girls' basketball team, the factory is a reminder of the limitations placed on her by her isolated homeland - limitations she desperately wants to escape.
Part I: Whitehorse: The Burden of Dreams
Part II: Whitehorse: A Game, a Lifeline
Part II: Whitehorse: The Tournament and the Torment
Photo Gallery: Day One, Day Two, Day Three

The history of Native American populations and women's basketball is long (check out this photograph from the early 1900's showing the La Plata County (Ute) girls team in Colorado) and, at times, painful. Often the game was used as part of a process of "anglicizing" the young women.

Perhaps the most famous Native American team was from the Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School in Montana. The team was made up of players from local reservations and various tribes (Lemhi-Shoshone, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Piegan, Shoshone-Bannock, and Chippewa-Cree). In 1904, they travelled to play at Worlds Fair in St. Louis, and won the "all-Indian women's basketball team from the Fort Shaw Government Industrial Indian School won World Championship."

The Fort Shaw team is the subject of a book, Full Court Quest. FYI, Larry Colton's "Counting Coup" chronicled the tale of a more contemporary player and team from Montana: Sharon LaForge and Hardin High's Lady Bulldogs.

On edit: I meant to include a reference to Rocks With Wings, the documentary about New Mexico's Shiprock High School, but a head cold scrambled my thought process.

Another side note: Last summer, when I visited the fabulous Heard Museum in Phoenix, they had a heartbreaking exhibit Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience. Oddly enough, while they had a strong exhibit of boys athletic equipment, the only girl's "athletic equipment" they displayed were cheerleading uniforms. And yes, I did submit a question asking why....

Also, if you're interested in more photos of early women's basketball teams, check out the Women's Basketball Timeline 1900-29.