In Montana, these last few weeks have been encompassed by divisional basketball tournaments. This is an important time for many towns within the state, because it's not only a time for high school basketball teams to compete for a place at the state tournaments, but it's also a time for communities to come together for one common cause.
Tempers were sparked last week during a Class C divisional tournament after a Billings radio host made a comment suggesting that there should be separate tournaments for the "Indian" teams. This stemmed from many different issues, but the basics of it derived from people's concerns with the safety of their children when they play teams from the reservations. There have been statements saying that an unsafe environment is created due to the unruly crowds. Thus a radio host posted a statement calling for segregated tournaments, that were solely inclusive of the Native American teams.
This statement sparked a lot of controversy within the schools and families of the students participating in the tournaments. The teams in the tournament--Power, Belt, Heart Butte, and Box Elder--decided to take a stand and show that they were against the idea of segregated tournaments. The teams all stood together in a show of unity, by joining together in a circle and holding hands. These high schoolers showed more compassion for their fellow man and stood together, completely trashing the idea that these Indian teams were out to get the other teams like some people believe. As stated by Forbes, the coach of the Box Elder team made a statement saying "We want to beat each other, but we also want to compete against each other. We want to bring out the best in each other and use our kids as ambassadors."
There are many different sides to how this story should have played out. The radio host ended up getting suspended indefinitely for his "racist comments," and many people believe that he shouldn't have gotten suspended. On the other hand, a large amount of people believe he was right in being suspended and that he shouldn't have never made those comments.
Here's the thing with Montana basketball: Montana has seven, count them, seven, reservations. No matter where you go in the state, there are high schools that are based solely on these reservations, or close to them. Montana's "population" of Native Americans is very high and every one in the state acknowledges the importance of our historical interactions with the different tribes that have helped shape our state. People have been playing basketball with and against these teams for an extremely long time. I have not only heard stories about my parents playing basketball against "Indian teams" but I've also witnessed these games first hand. My parents told me that the teams they played against played dirty, but it built rivalries that they lived for. Even when I went to see my mom's Alma Mater play against one of their rival teams, she warned me how dangerous the team they were playing with could get, but all I saw was the most intense basketball game I've ever seen. These two teams--Harlowton and Plenty Coups--played their hearts out against each other. Both sides of the stands were filled with the entire community--and when I say the whole community, I'm not exaggerating. All I saw were two teams who loved playing basketball and two communities who backed their school and their kids with everything they had. Simply put, it was fun to watch. I loved watching that game more than any of my own high school basketball games.
This last week called on Montanans to show their true colors and they sure came out. Kids stood together and made the statement that they play united. Calling for a separate "Indian tournament" would call for so many different things including redistricting, but it would also call for a revert in history and put us back in a time when people purposefully segregated the Native Americans. This is high school basketball. These kids play for the love of the game and it emulates throughout their community. It is nothing more than HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL. These teams shouldn't be worried about having to stand together in unity because of racist remarks made by ANYONE. They should instead be concerned with who gets to go to State because of who beat who, and that's it. Have your opinions, but here's mine. Just let these kids play and don't bring unnecessary conflict into these games. Let the only conflict be a healthy rivalry set forth by past generations.