By Christopher Lomahquahu and Tasha Silverhorn
Over three days, July-17, the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games brought tribal youth from across the country to the Valley for some great sports competition, including championship basketball and baseball tournaments. Players of all ages showed off their prowess in various sports at venues across the Valley.
In total, there were 73 boys’ teams, 57 girls’ teams, 17 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams competing in their respective divisions. Five teams represented the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Starting off the lineup of SRPMIC teams was the Salt River Renegades in the 4th Grade co-ed division, who would drop their first game against the Court Queens, 42-12. For these little ballers, their outing at the tournament would be about having fun and getting introduced to tournament basketball. They finished in seventh place in their division.
Stepping up in age, the up-and-coming Ba’ag JV team started their tournament hot, besting their opponent Not Elite 64-27. They rode their hot streak into the semifinals until being upset by Bemo Elite in a close matchup, 63-58. They would make a run for the JV division championship. Overall, the Ba’ag JV team finished the tournament in a respectable fourth place out of the field of teams.
Moving on to the Varsity division, teams like The River, Ba’ag and TE were on a mission to stake their claim at the championship. The River team brought their best stuff early in the tournament, handling their opponent Apache Boys in the first game with a score of 50-46. Although The River had a brief appearance in the Piestewa Games, they made an impact. The team ended up placing 15th out of 24 teams, but there was plenty of ball ahead, as they would form the Ba’ag 2023 in the Native American Basketball Invitational.
Another SRPMIC varsity team, TE, helmed by SRPMIC Council member Wi-bwa Gray, fielded their way into the tournament. The team started off slow, losing to NAZ Soldiers in their first game, but they found success in later games, breaking even in tournament play and finishing 19th overall.
In the Varsity division, the high school Ba’ag team put their best foot forward from the start, beating Apache Boys 50-46. The team, full of talented athletes, was on a good run throughout the tournament but failed to punch their ticket into the finals after losing to Bemo Elite 63-58 in the semifinals.
In the 7th and 8th Grade girls’ division, the Zona Soldiers took the championship title after beating six teams in their bracket. Natives With Talent’s (NWT) JV team made it to the final four in their division, playing against the Shnacks’n’Buckets team. Shnacks’n’Buckets defeated NWT 57-40 and went on to win the championship in the Girls’ JV Division. NWT’s varsity team made it to the final four in their division, then was defeated by Dem Lady Sleepers, who went on to win the championship. Unfortunately, AZ Lady Warriors did not make it to the championship bracket, getting to play only three of their pool games.
Two teams represented the Community in the Lori Piestewa Games’ youth baseball tournament: the Bulldogs and SR Chargers. Youth ages 9-12 played at the Salt River Baseball Field and Way of Life Facility fields in triple-digit temperatures. All teams played three games; each game had seven innings and a one-hour time limit. A number of adult SRPMIC members participated on softball teams in a tournament held at Bell Bank Park in Mesa.
Although many of the teams fell short of the championships, their determination was nothing less than the prize. For some teams, it was a dress rehearsal for the NABI tournament and a chance to play as a cohesive unit to find success.
The Lori Piestewa National Native American Games is organized by Grand Canyon State Games and also includes competitions in softball, cross country, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. Lori Piestewa was killed in the Iraq War in 2003. Born in Tuba City of Hopi and Mexican heritage, she was the first Native American to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military and the first woman in the military killed in the Iraq War.