Monday, September 15, 2008
Small Town Football: A Native Game?
It goes something like this: By and large, schools with a majority of Native American students are typically in the hunt for state basketball titles in any given class during any given year, yet the same is not true under these circumstances when it comes to the game of football. What explains this?
I had hoped the answer would be revealed to me by simply watching an eight-man football game between two small town schools with a majority of Native American students—Hays-Lodgepole and Rocky Boy. If the answer was in the game itself, I was too blind to see it. So, during that eight-man game I posed the question to a few people I met up with.
Allowing for my own arrogance in taking a stab at the question, I'd say Native American kids aren't hostile or militant enough when it comes to football, especially as I watched both Rocky Boy and Hays-Lodgepole warm up before the game—talk about a laid back pre-game. I was reminded of a backyard pickup game rather than a hotly contested rivalry, which admittedly was a bit refreshing. But hell, what are my formal credentials when it comes to the game of football, let alone Native Americans?
One of the assistant coaches at Rocky Boy responded to my query this past weekend, and I think he answered it best—or at least what made sense to me. It has to do with tradition. When it comes to the small town schools on the Indian Reservations, basketball is more established and accepted because it has been around much longer than football. Take Hays-Lodgepole for example, football didn't come on the scene until 1975 while basketball had been established decades earlier. Parents and grandparents played basketball, but not necessarily football. Basketball's long-term existence has resulted in a certain attitude/environment where almost everyone encourages the youth to play because the parents and grandparents played when they were young too.
If football truly has gained a toehold in the small schools of America's Reservations, I suspect the Native American players, coaches and teams will develop their own knack and style for the game much like they have in basketball. And with a bit of luck, perhaps we'll see more and more Native American teams vying for conference and state titles in football as well.
I look forward to the day.