Once again, Red Cloud High School brings more outside-the-box news than any other school. Saturday night, the boys basketball team played an exhibition match at halftime of a Denver Nuggets pre-season game at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Think that's epic (as my son, Sam, would say), how about the Red Cloud boys golf team could be a favorite to win the state tournament that began Monday in Madison.
That's right: golf. And get this: the basketball exhibition in Denver was arranged by the Nuggets' front office as much for the academic performance of the Red Cloud players as for their athletic prowess. Well bust my buttons. As Bill Murray said in the original Ghostbusters: "Dogs and cats sleeping together, total pandemonium."
But seriously, at a time when the news in general about Lakota youth, particularly as it emanates from the reservation, seems to center primarily on drugs and gang related shootings, Red Cloud's students again force a re-think.
It's been that way for some time. About 12 years ago, I took a trip to Washington, D.C., as an assistant boys basketball coach for Red Cloud. There to participate in the Gonzaga/DC Classic, one of the top five prep tournaments in the nation, our team would be competing with powerhouses such as Power Memorial from New York City and Anacostia and Gonzaga in D.C.
While we were definitely the Cinderella, there was no fairy godmother. Still, our boys acquitted themselves well. One of them, a sophomore two guard named Chuck Archambault set the record for three-pointers in one game against Anacostia.
That the Red Cloud school system has become a beacon of hope, especially in the last decade, on the Pine Ridge Reservation has been pretty well documented. So, too, examples of strong leaders doing good work in every community on the Rez are too numerous to mention. True as well, however, is that serious problems, not the least of which is increased membership in gangs and the violence, theft, drug use and mayhem that accompanies it are on the rise. So much so that calling citizens of reservation communities embattled does not overstate it.
"Endeavor to persevere." The old Chief Dan George line from the film The Outlaw Josey Wales continues to pop up whenever I think of the challenges that await Lakota youth upon just getting out of bed. Among them, the hightest suicide rate in North America that bedevils young Native American men in particular. Once could also recite the litany - drug and alcohol addiction rates, drop out rates, joblessness, etc, etc as contributing factors. Serious business, all of it. But at some point, especially given the tenacity of these pathologies, the larger population of good citizens on the Pine Ridge Reservation is just going to have to declare war.
I suppose it's easy for me to say all this, sitting on the sidelines as I am in Hot Springs. But that doesn't mean I and others like me are totally out of the game.
We all have friends and relatives down on the Rez. Maybe we're more like benchwarmers, just looking for our spot to get in and help. There's a lot at stake, and our hearts are totally in the fight.
But, truth be told, the leaders have to be the tribal members living there. Put us in coach.