By Sam Stevens (MCC Advisor)
Mesa, AZ – On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, the American Indian Center at MCC presented a guest speaker panel in conjunction with Indigenous Nations Month whose theme is ‘Celebrating American Indian Athletes’. Attended by nearly 50 students and staff, the speakers were GinaMarie Scarpa, co-founder and CEO of the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) tournament and new NABI ambassador and professional Native American golfer, Alexandrea Schulte. They were able to share information and advice related to life, education, choices, the future, and professional experiences.
Scarpa, a native Bostonian, has lived in Arizona since her late teens and with the help and support of former NBA stars AC Green and Mark West, co-founded NABI in the early 2000’s. She has seen NABI grow from a tournament hosting just 24 regionally-located teams to well over 100 in 2013, with teams converging on Phoenix every summer from all over the United States, seeking the coveted NABI tournament trophy. The eventual champions of the men’s gold division was a team from Alaska and there was even representation from a native Maori ball club out of New Zealand, an allusion to the enormous growth and popularity of their organization. With a network that has received support from Nike N7 and the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the growth of NABI has been exponential over the years.
With a personality that captured the attention of the room and excitement that belied the love of her work, GinaMarie passionately explained how NABI came into existence, the challenges and growth it has experienced over time, and the future of the organization. She discussed NABI’s education-related objectives and how their goal of placing talented and motivated native students in higher education has opened up a number of opportunities to an underserved minority population. NABI has helped countless participants become noticed by colleges and universities nationwide, opening up opportunities for talented and skilled individuals to participate in intercollegiate athletics. They also have awarded many former NABI participants with academic funding as well, through their scholarship program.
As she discussed the planning aspects of all that NABI is undertaking, which includes a 3-on-3 tournament in April, health awareness and wellness promotional events, a growing baseball and softball tournament, and the enormous basketball championships every summer, she encouraged students to take chances to learn things for free by helping organizations through volunteer or service opportunities. Her educational advice emboldened students to look forward and become empowered through academic knowledge and educational studies while taking advantage of opportunities to always open their mouths and establish a network to call upon for valuable professional growth and experience. She suggested that students embrace their mistakes, apologize and take responsibility for them, and look forward with hope to learn and improve from ones challenges. She encouraged students to change their perspective in the face of negative adversity and to not become a victim of circumstance when things go wrong in life. Her energy captivated the room and many students came up to offer their thanks and gratitude for her advice upon completion of her talk.
Alex Schulte, a professional golfer from the Northern Ute tribe, was recently chosen as a spokesperson for NABI. After a highly successful college and amateur golf career, she is embarking on a professional future that has garnered her several endorsement offers, including from the Ak-Chin tribe and their Southern Dunes Golf Resort as well as the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for NABI. In an emotional speech, Schulte explained that although she was gifted with an aptitude toward golf, which ultimately led her to a full-ride scholarship at the University of Arkansas, she struggled academically as a high school and college student. Forced with having to balance a challenging academic course load and the constraints of being a college athlete, Schulte had to deal with a diagnosed learning disability which slows down the processing of information to the brain. In addition, a hearing disorder also challenged her ability to pick things up during class and she spent hours working with her high school teachers and tutors at Arkansas to ensure her academic success. Recalling another painful experience, she emotionally discussed the passing of her mother at the age of 17 and how that motivated her to continue looking forward even though it would have been easy for her to take another path in life that would have led to further hardships and trials. She encouraged the students in attendance to persevere in spite of challenges and to not look at the negatives in life as deterrents to their goals. She appreciative of the opportunity to serve as a role model to young kids and is looking forward to promoting golf, health, and wellness within the native community.
An additional feature to the panel was a lunchtime chat with Tommy Belone, a recently retired Marine and student at the Golf Academy of America in Chandler. Belone came into contact with the American Indian Center several weeks ago when he sought out advisor Loretta Damon to sign up as a registered voter for the Navajo Nation. Hailing from Mexican Springs, NM, Belone served in the Marines for 20 years, travelling the world and also serving as a recruiter. He remembered his time spent in Japan where he began picking up an interest in golf and that compelled him to seek ways to improve his game. Playing often to improve his game, he began realizing that there are many lessons to be learned in golf that one can apply in life. He discussed working on the fundamentals of the game as a way to stay focused on doing the right things, something he encouraged students to pay attention to in their lives and school work. He assured students that having dreams and setting goals for themselves would give them better chances at success in life and that periodic evaluations and adjustments to those goals, are ways to ensure success. Recalling his days spent abroad, he informed students to think of their lives beyond the present, to see themselves in experiences that would allow them to grow and learn new ideas and ways to enhance their futures as individuals and professionals. As he looks forward to the next phase of his life as a civilian, he is determined to have a future in the golf industry. It is apparent that his passion for golf will be realized as he applies the experiences learned during his military service to remain focused and organized and we wish him the best.
Overall, the event was very much a success and highlighted the educational component of sports within education. In addition to MCC instructors Arlene Old Elk and Alfred Yazzie, there were also several of MCC’s American Indian athletes present, including Darla Woody (women’s basketball), Deriann Yazzie (cross country/track), and Tyler Endischee (cross country) who were also past participants at the NABI basketball tournament. They had pictures taken with GinaMarie and Alex who were very excited to meet up with their NABI alums and they will be recognized again during halftime of the men’s basketball game versus Glendale on Nov. 23, 2013 at 4:00 PM. There will be a t-shirt giveaway and native dancers at halftime of the games as well and we look forward to continued celebration of our American Indian athletes.
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