In Towaoc, a lunch and prayer were held Thursday to send off the Ute Mountain Ute athletes, coaches and parents to the 2017 North American Indigenous games.
“We’re sending our youths to compete in sports, but also for fellowship with Canadian tribes,” said Tribal Council member Prisllena Rabbit.
“Sharing our cultures, and experiencing the games together makes us all stronger as Native peoples.”
Girls basketball coach Britteny Whiteman said the competition’s tough, but she believes her team has a good chance to go deep into the tournament.
“We will be up against some advanced college-level players, but our practices have been going well, and the girls are working as a team,” she said.
Leslie Lang, 19, of Towaoc, said she’s excited about the trip to a different country, her first.
“I’m a little nervous for the competition, but once I’m on the court with my teammates, we focus on the game and just work together,” she said. “The key to our success is staying positive, and really just be there to enjoy the moment and have fun.”
Ute Mountain Ute competitor Timber Manning, 15, says she’s excited about exploring another part of the world.
“We’ll be going to Niagara Falls, and I want to make new friends. Explaining some of the Ute culture and traditions we have here is part of it too.”
The sense of pride during the opening ceremonies is inspiring and a lifelong memory, coach Whiteman said. “It’s just like the Olympics – big crowds and ceremonies where each tribe is represented.”
In 2002, Whiteman’s team brought home a bronze medal.
“The big thing is that our kids are representing our tribe, state and country,” she said. “Of course the goal is to earn a medal and make the podium. I’ll be taking mine for them to pass around and get motivated!”
Ute Mountain Ute competitors are: Tamea Casey (swimming), Talia Casey, Mannie Wall and Kolton Begay (archery), Kerwin Tom (wrestling), Tiffiny Mills and Malia Begay (volleyball), and Leslie Lang, Timber Manning Iryana Dale, Kateri Bancroft, Roman Montoya, Tyler Morris and Lonnie Dutchie Jr. (basketball), and Trinity Lopez and John White (track).