Two Sisters Bring Native American Pride To Women's NCAA

All Things Considered host Melissa Block talks to Corinne Sams, who has closely followed the careers of Louisville basketball players Shoni and Jude Schimmel since they were five years olds playing ball on a Native American reservation in Oregon. She talks about the excitement and support for the players in Native American communities around the country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Native American pride is being splashed across Indian country, especially in Oregon on lawn signs saying: Rez Girls Rock and You've been Schimmeled. Two dynamic sisters, Shoni and Jude Schimmel, have helped power the underdog Louisville Cardinals to the women's NCAA championship game. They go up against Connecticut tomorrow night. The Schimmel sisters grew up on the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, and they thrill their fans with a style of play known as rez ball.

We called Umatilla tribal member Corinne Sams to find out more about what that means. She's an advocate for youth and families on the reservation. And I asked her what she sees when she watches the Schimmel sisters play.

CORINNE SAMS: Oh, they're doing a combination of things; flashy passes, making that three-point shot way beyond the arc, the momentum and the tempo of the game, and just being so aggressive. That game against Baylor, I mean, they called it street ball, but all of us here at home knew that they were playing rez ball.

BLOCK: How long ago did you start seeing the Schimmel sisters play?

SAMS: I've watched Shoni and Jude from the time they started in local tournaments when they were just little, out shooting in front of their house.

BLOCK: How little?

SAMS: Probably 5, 6 years old.

BLOCK: You know, I'm struck by something that Shoni Schimmel said after a recent game. She said, the reservation is always going to be a part of me. I was born on the rez and come from the rez. That's all I do is play rez ball. But the reality is that her parents decided to leave the reservation, right, to move to Portland so that the girls could really succeed. It was a really hard choice for the family to make. What's the message of that decision, do you think? What does that say?

SAMS: You know, I think that Rick and Ceci providing that avenue for their girls says a lot to our entire community, that it's possible to not have to live here to go on and play somewhere else. We have a success story now, when before, you know, we didn't. So I think that that opens up the doors for other families and youth in this community to do the same thing.

BLOCK: How big a deal, generally, is basketball on the reservation?

SAMS: It's huge. We use basketball here on our reservation as a tool to promote education and to do positive things with our youth here. And so it's always been a dominant force. But since the Schimmel girls have been playing Division I basketball, it's exploded into everybody wanting to participate and get to that next level.

BLOCK: Well, where are people watching the games? Is it a communal thing? Are people getting together to watch what they do?

SAMS: We have a tribal casino here and they have been hosting the games and it was a packed house last night, I hear. I watch it with a group of my friends in the privacy of our own homes, but I can guarantee you that everybody here is watching that game somewhere.

BLOCK: What's the atmosphere like on the reservation at game time, say, last night after the game with California when they won?

SAMS: You could step outside the door and hear people cheering in the neighborhood. I was right in the heart of our tribal housing last night and as soon as the game was over, the streets filled with kids playing basketball on their courts in front of their houses. I mean, any kid who had a basketball was outside last night after the game pretending they were Shoni and Jude.

BLOCK: Well, Corinne Sams, it's great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

SAMS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Corinne Sams talking with us from Mission, Oregon on the Umatilla Reservation. The Schimmel sisters' championship game is tomorrow night when their Louisville team takes on Connecticut.

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