Rez Ball Rules the Pit: 48 Native High School Hoops Teams Descend on Albuquerque

Photo source: facebook.com/pages/Striking-Eagle-Basketball-Invitational-Education-Fair/152557944807279 - The Navajo Prep Lady Eagles at the 2014 NMAIC tournament. In 2015, the event has a new name. Photo source: facebook.com/pages/Striking-Eagle-Basketball-Invitational-Education-Fair/152557944807279

Rez Ball Rules the Pit: 48 Native High School Hoops Teams Descend on Albuquerque

Around Albuquerque, the beginning of the new year means something a little bit more special to scholastic basketball fans. It also means the Striking Eagle Basketball Invitational and Education Fair (SEBI), formerly the New Mexico American Indian Classic. Tournament founder and director, Dr. Shawn Secatero, is an Assistant Professor in the Education Department at the University of New Mexico. The concept began six years ago, “to provide Native youth an opportunity to showcase their talents in basketball, as well as academics.” The 2015 SEBI is sanctioned by the New Mexico Activities Association and will feature 48 talented American Indian school basketball teams in the States of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The tournament bracket is made up of four divisions that include large schools (Class 2A-4A), small schools (Class B-A) for both boys and girls teams. The main goals of the SEBI are to foster educational growth in technology, the arts, college prep, career awareness, and health wellness. Participant schools must have at least a 20 percent American Indian Student population enrollment. Two Non-Native Schools (one boys’ and one girls’ team) who do not meet this requirement may be chosen as guest schools to promote the commonwealth of bridging cultures.

“We're very proud of our event and we want to keep it going in the years to come,” says Dr. Shawn Secatero. Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards.

The basketball tournament is the main attraction, but the education fair rounds out the event. “We wanted to also provide youth with educational opportunities,” says Secatero. “This is a way to not only involve our schools, but our community. That’s why we added educational workshops.” He adds that it “really encourages colleges to get involved, as well as health programs. The idea is to foster healthy lifestyle choices. Everybody who is involved with the SEBI does this work on a volunteer basis. We have program sponsors, community members, and students that really get actively involved.” The workshops agenda includes various topics, from an Elder’s Talking Circle to Zumba Fitness demonstrations.

The Piedra Vista High School girls have enjoyed good success at the tournament, winning the 2014 Turtle Bracket. One of the main benefits cited by Coach Reed is playing in a large arena. The Pit is also the site of the state championships, and the home court of the University of New Mexico Lobos. Reed adds that the “workshops for the girls are really good for the Native American community.” It wasn’t all serious business, though. Reed was sure to note his squad enjoys the camaraderie of tournament play. “It’s nice during the game to see the girls enjoying [themselves] and having fun with each other. We had a couple of teammates stepping up to show leadership.” Coach Peil, whose Laguna-Acoma boys team won the Eagle Bracket for a second consecutive year in 2014, echoed many of Reed’s views. He likes to participate because this is where the State tournament is held. “It gets the team used to playing on that floor, in that environment.” They defeated Red Mesa, one the three teams from Arizona, in the Championship game. “They were excited to play a team from Arizona,” Reed says, “instead of a team we might face during the regular season. It was a good challenge.”

Dr. Secatero’s primary message and goal in creating the tournament is to “bring together various Native communities and to celebrate the sport of basketball, as well as promoting education. We’re very proud of our event and we want to keep it going in the years to come.” This year’s tournament will be played at the University of New Mexico on January 2-3, 2015. Information can be found at www.strikingeagle.org/.

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