The Hard-Hitting All-Star Game That Changes Lives
August 10, 2012VYPE MAGAZINE - NATIONAL
VYPE National Desk
Generally a short workweek, many people take vacations the first week of July, but for 75 Native-American high school athletes and volunteers (and their families), in the searing southern sun, there was little rest and relaxation. On the campus of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK, athletes representing 19 tribes from Washington D.C. to California were arriving to participate in the 11th Annual Native All-Star Football Classic.
Jeff Bigger originated the idea of a “Native All-Star Football” game, nine years ago. John Harjo worked with Bigger, turning an idea into reality, and remains an integral part of today's NASFC. These men, along with other dedicated Native-American coaches and volunteers, paved the way for the games’ recent considerable rise in profile and popularity. The University of North Texas, Bacone College, Washington State University and Haskell Indian College in Lawrence, KS have all played host to, what most would say, is not your typical All-Star game.
“NAS Football is like no other all-star game in the country. They come to hit and play hard, to showcase their skills and compete against other native student-athletes. All are very good players,” stated Steve Cardwell, founder and Chairman of Native Revision, NASFC’s producer. “It’s important to give students a sense of what it’s like to be on a college campus.” NSU provided that university experience, as athletes were housed in campus dorms and had meals at the student cafeteria; adhering to a tight schedule was a must.
Native all-stars begin arriving on Sunday for an intense weeklong “mini-camp” that begins with the NASFC Combine & Draft. Coaches focus their undivided attention on the athletes’ combine performance before interviewing each player individually; undoubtedly crafting a draft strategy that each coaching squad hopes will result in their team having an edge.
National Football League veteran players Jimmy Warne and Ron Baker coached the Red Hawks, along with brothers Gary and Jacob Tanner, Dylan Parker and Scott Sapulpa. The Blue Eagles were led by second-year coach Cody “Iron Eyes” Wilson, along with Bryan Raymond, Micah Swimmer, Kelvin Starks and former MMA star Andre “Moose” Roberts.
The 2012 class trained as hard as any previous NASFC, complete with two-a-day team practices and classroom sessions. The Oklahoma heat was sweltering, but coaches and trainers ensured the athletes (and themselves) kept hydrated, even providing pickle juice, often used by collegiate and pro athletes to prevent and relieve cramps, while replenishing electrolyte minerals.
Along with the hard work, all-stars enjoyed time away from the field with many activities, including a “Team Canoe Race” down the famed Illinois River and “Pizza and a Movie Night.” But the off-field highlight of the week was definitely the Blue & Red Hoops Challenge, a slow-break basketball game between each teams, coaches and staff. Slightly altered rules were utilized to accommodate the noticeable maturity of the “Geriatrics” (Red Team). The indicatively named and excitable “Young Bux” (Blue Team) were occasionally reminded of the rules, as the crowd cheered wildly during a barrage of 2-pointers from both squads. The event was open to athletes and their families, sponsors and volunteers, who not only had a great time, but were treated to a post-game BBQ dinner, personally cooked by former Oklahoma State star linebacker and NFL veteran Kenyatta Wright.
Few high school student-athletes continue playing in college, and of those who do, even fewer move on to professional sports. Fortunately for the NASFC, many All-Stars have commitments to play college ball including D1. Haskell Indian Nations University no doubt fields the largest number of Native-American athletes including 17 recruits from this year's game. Haskell Indians Coach Jimmy Snyder has been an important part of the annual game along with notable 2012 NASFC coaches and Haskell Alumnae including Gary Tanner (former football and current golf coach) and football standout Cody Wilson who was joined by Micah Swimmer and Burgess Navarro.
Throughout the week, coaches mentored athletes in an effort to inspire achievement on the field. However, the NASFC is about letting these Native-American athletes have the confidence and ability to be all-stars in life. With broad perspectives, Native Revision founder and Chairman Steve Caldwell, Vice-Chair Cherokee Hicks and Director J.D. Sanders, each addressed the athletes, simultaneously revealing immense opportunities and harsh life-lessons and challenging the young men to honor their tribe, family, teammates and themselves by demonstrating character, integrity and leadership. Uplifting, gut-wrenching, humorous and heartbreaking stories were presented in a very personal “fire-side chat” feel, as opposed to typical speeches.
Applause, tears and laughter echoed throughout the fieldhouse turned to victorious celebration, as the anticipated game day team jerseys were revealed and presented to each athlete. The pride was obvious, as each team donned their jerseys, embossed with the All-Star designation and feathers across the shoulders.
Another milestone for the NASFC was a worldwide live-streaming broadcast of the game, produced by VYPE TV at VYPE.com via the iHigh.com Network. The local and regional press were shocked at the game’s intensity and continuous hard-hitting plays of the athletes who weren’t competing for a state championship, but only for pride, honor and the right to be called 2012’s NASFC Champions. The score offers no indication of how close the game actually was, as the Blue Eagles defeated the Red Hawks 16-0. But make no mistake, both teams left everything on the field, proving they’re champions, one and all.
The All-Stars proved something else, which illustrates the type of young men who participate in the NASFC. Native Revision Co-Chair, Cherokee Hicks was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. Those close to her state that she would never mention her diagnosis or use it as an excuse not to achieve. Her trademark flowing hair, being noticeably absent, replaced by tasteful hats and scarves, left little doubt of the culprit. As news trickled throughout the camp, athletes took it upon themselves to honor Cherokee by utilizing “pink” athletic tape and other gear on game day. More heartwarming is the fact they endeavored to keep it quiet, but felt the need to seek approval from their coaches. It was a striking unselfish demonstration of compassion, revealing the high quality of character possessed by NASFC athletes.
MVPs were chosen and awarded immediately following the contest. Jake Phillips, quarterback for the Blue Eagles from Keys, OK and Chickasaw Nation member, was the 2012 NASFC Game MVP. Other MVPs are as follows:
• Blue Team Offensive MVP: Coulton Douillard, Keys HS, OK
• Blue Team Defensive MVP: Forrest Stamper, Cherokee HS, NC
• Red Team Offensive MVP: Travis Sandlin, Vian HS, OK
• Red Team Defensive MVP: Stuart Polk, Sequoyah HS, OK
Athletic ability is important to the NASFC; but, along with character and integrity, academics play a key role and ensure “off-the-field” success. This year’s player pool revealed eleven “Academic All-Stars.”
Yet another milestone for the NASFC was the inaugural Alex Battiest Leadership Award, named in honor of a fallen 2011 NASFC athlete, who lost his 4-month battle with cancer, in January of this year. The award is given to the athlete who best represents the virtues demonstrated by Alex, an outstanding student and recognized leader at Broken Bow High School in Oklahoma. “He’s the guy you’d want your daughter to date,” mentions John Harjo. Steve Cardwell explains, “I wish you could have met Alex. He was the kind of young man who exemplified leadership with the potential to be a great Native-American leader.” Battiest was indeed an exceptional young Native-American warrior of honor, character and integrity. Selected from eleven nominees, Ryan Begay from Crownpoint, NM was given this year’s Alex Battiest Leadership Award, selected by Alex’s parents Kenneth and Kim Battiest, who attended the game in their son’s honor. It was a highly emotional moment as Alex’s mother gave Ryan a heartfelt hug, as both parents presented the award.
The Native All-Star Football Classic is many things: but the Alex Battiest Leadership Award may be the best example of what Native Revision and the NASFC are about, empowering Native-American student-athletes with the necessary skills to become leaders and ensure prosperity for themselves, as well as all Native-Americans.
2012 NASFC Sponsors
• Brenco Industrial Services LLC - Dallas, TX
• VYPE High School Sports Network - Dallas, TX
• Omni Erecting - Carrollton, TX
• Cherokee Nation Business - Tahlequah, OK
• Tribal Solutions - Frisco, TX
• Creek Nation - Okmulgee, OK
• Dream Catcher Sports - Tahlequah, OK
• Mountain View Meat Company - Stilwell, OK
• Walmart - Phoenix, AZ
• Walmart - Tahlequah, OK
• Redmen Office Supply - Tahlequah, OK
From Native Revision and NASFC:
A very special thanks to Northeastern State University President Dr. Steve Turner, VP of Operations Tim Foutch, Athletic Director Tony Duckworth, Head Football Coach Kenny Evans, Assistant AD of External Operations Scott Pettus, Sequoyah High School Assistant Football DeWayne Hammer, who provided local logistics and without who’s assistance the game wouldn’t have been so successful and especially, Assistant Director of Conferences and Events Karen Ross, who kept up with NASFC all week.