MISSION, Ore. – When Louisville plays Connecticut in the NCAA women’s championship Tuesday, fans in Northwest Indian country will be cheering. That’s because two Native American sisters are leading the Louisville Cardinals and they hail from a reservation in northeast Oregon.
In Mission, Oregon and nearby Pendleton it’s pretty clear basketball’s a big deal. There are basketball camp names embroidered on people’s jackets, team bumper stickers are everywhere and lately – there have been a whole lot of house parties.
Shoni Schimmel and her sister Jude have achieved rock-star status here. Corinne Sams is a family friend. She attended a party in the reservation housing projects for the game that put Louisville in the final two.
“When the game was over you go outside and you could hear people cheering," Sams says. "All the kids in the neighborhood had a basketball and were outside shooting. You know they were pretending they were Shoni and Jude – the boys and girls the same.”
Sams says the Schimmel sisters don’t get back home much anymore, but she says the young women know they’ve got the Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla people behind them.
One former player from the reservation, Shana Radford, remembers when her two fellow tribal members would come watch her play high school and college basketball a decade ago. Radford says a style of play called Rez-ball has become much more accepted in the past 10 years.
“They’re just paving the way for a new generation of kids that are going to be like 'yeah, that’s awesome they can do that,'" Radford says. "They’re on ESPN, they’re doing interviews. It’s just so cool to see them in the mainstream, to see natives in the mainstream. It’s just never been done. It’s history.”
For Tuesday’s game, a huge party for tribal members is happening at the Wildhorse Casino. Radford plans to watch and scream from home with her three-month old daughter.
On the Web: