Every December, the Ak-Chin Indian Community hosts their Masik Tas, or “birthday” celebration, which commemorates the Ak-Chin Indian Community’s formal recognition by the U.S. government.
This year’s Ak-Chin Masik Tas included several special events that were free to the public, including an adult and junior rodeo, a basketball tournament, a light parade and a carnival. However, the most anticipated event of Masik Tas for years has been the All-Indian Elder Chair Volleyball Tournament.
On December 6, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had six teams make the trip to Ak-Chin to participate in this year’s Masik Tas chair volleyball tournament: the Salt River Elite, Serv-Ivers, Nyaa Thosh, Salt River S’gevk, Lightning & Thunder and the Salt River Steppers.
Games began promptly at 8 a.m. inside the Ak-Chin gymnasium, with the matches lasting about 15 to 30 minutes each. Staff from the Ak-Chin Health and Human Services Department handed out healthy and nutritious snacks and drinks to the athletes and those in attendance to cheer them on. Though there was a crisp breeze throughout the day, hydration was still important, especially for the athletes playing into the afternoon.
Many other teams from across Arizona’s Indian Country also made the trip to play in the chair volleyball games. Teams from San Lucy, Gila River, Fort Yuma, Fort McDowell, Tohono O’odham and many other tribal communities filled up the roster of teams. In all, 30+ teams vied for the top spot in the chair volleyball tournament.
As the games continued throughout the morning, the Salt River teams found themselves battling one another on the gym court. The 8:30 a.m. game featured Salt River S’gevk going head-to-head against Lightning & Thunder. Though each team battled hard, there always has to be a winner, and it was Lightning & Thunder that advanced to the quarterfinals. The 11 a.m. playoff games featured the Salt River Elite going up against the Serv-Ivers and Lightning & Thunder playing the Salt River Steppers.
Out of all the Salt River teams that participated in this year’s games, it was Nyaa Thosh that advanced the furthest. Though the chair volleyball games are competitive, having fun and staying active is the main focus.
“We came to play and enjoy ourselves,” said Russell Ray, team member on Nyaa Thosh. Ray added, “We go through our drills to develop a real good healthy relationship. We pray a lot. We also are able to share each other’s ideas. We all listen to each other and encourage each other. It makes for a good, strong, and healthy team,” he finished.
In the winner take all tournament, it was Team Jackrabbits that would go on to win the championship game against Once Wild. Rounding out the top 3 were the Firebirds from Fort McDowell.
Many years ago, chair volleyball took place at a small potluck gathering with decorated gourds for trophies. Today, chair volleyball tournaments are played across state lines with countless teams competing for first-place prizes, which range from hardware to T-shirts.
Though their Masik Tas championship dreams came up short, the Salt River teams have already begun focusing on the new year, as many 2024 chair volleyball tournaments across Indian Country await.