Indian country is small, especially in Oklahoma. Really small. There are people you kinda know, even if you don’t really “know” them. That was me and Alison before we “actually” met each other in a basketball tournament last month. Alison is an educator, administrator, community organizer and mom and she’s one of those Indigenous women that can be counted on to take a stand for others.
Last month I blogged about an all-Indian basketball tournament and our team the “Auntie Ballers.” It was therapeutic stream of conscious for me, spilling out my own own emotions and droning on about the love of basketball. I also seized the moment during the NCAA tournament to provide some education about federal Indian policy, the boarding school experience, and how the sport has served for so many as a way to compartmentalize and escape. Little did I know how much that post would hit the hearts and minds of so many other ballers who reached a tipping point during this last year of isolation, grief and recovery.
Alison was one of the Auntie Ballers and she generously shares her story healing story here:
“My preface of this blog could probably be it’s own blog so bear with me. First and foremost, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Carla Feathers and Stacy Leeds for asking me to play and sponsoring us. And to the keenest teammates for hangin’ tough with me.
A year ago I was in quarantine because I had the flu and was exposed to Covid-19 (I actually think I had covid then) so panic and anxiety set in. I was already battling a deep depression because the spring before my daddy began his journey home and left us in May 2019. Being isolated in quarantine is a hard thing to endure so my depression was allowed to manifest into a whole new level of hopelessness.
This would not be my first or last quarantine as I have been quarantined 3 times total in a span of a year. After I got out the first one I quit working out and I even stopped running, which is a big part of my identity. To despair and to be that terrified is a hard pill to swallow as I reflect. The worst case scenario did happen and I caught Covid for real in October right before my 41st birthday. Since then I’ve been battling to get my head on straight and start working out again. I still suffer from Covid “long hauler” symptoms and I am seeing a cardiologist, so getting into shape has been really difficult.
During the basketball tournament my heart raced during one of our games and would not go under 166 heartbeats per minute even after sitting for a long period of time. I was determined to keep playing through and that’s what I’ve always strived to do with my life. Even after being diagnosed with a mental health condition back in 2017 and the passing of my father-in-law, brother, and my parents in the span of 4 years, made it more difficult. However, I just keep playing, moving, living, loving, breathing. Sports has been a big part of my healing, a key to coping.
For me, basketball is where it all began. No, I was never a, “coulda shoulda woulda”, truth is I was a “never was” because even though I grew up playing basketball I quit as a sophomore in high school. I tried to play my junior year in Pawnee but couldn’t keep my grades up. I tried again at the JUCO level as a married mama of two and even though I made the squad I couldn’t commit with a 12 month-old and a 21 month-old. But my love of basketball and staying active has never left me. My husband and I played softball many years and often lugged our kids around to these tournaments and leagues. But with 4 kiddos, graduate school, ill parents, and life, playing organized sports has gotten harder to come by. I began running in 2011 and in 2015 I started racing in obstacle courses trying to do something competitive. But there ain’t nothing like playing with a team. When Carla asked me to play I jumped at the chance. In January I had started working out again but kept falling off. Now I had a reason to get serious…a jacket!
But that tournament was so much more than playing basketball and my teammate’s words in this blog described the sentiment exactly. Carla Feathers shared a truth about sports being taken away because of the pandemic and how it can be hard to deal with if that’s what your life revolves around. For my husband and I always used sports to bond and push our own kiddos. Our oldest children were high school varsity athletes and one of them, my oldest daughter, has gone on to play collegiate basketball while the other became a certified weightlifting coach with his dad. My husband coached many teams and we drug the younger ones to all the games and tournaments. We even watch it on tv and love watching Major League Baseball in person. Sports is our world. So when the pandemic took that all away from us, we were dramatically impacted and made do with a volleyball net and hiking.
Stacy’s blog definitely put into words the healing basketball has had on our community even before the pandemic. In the blog she speaks about Indigenous people as the underdog and there is truth to that. I saw so much talent, some of it undiscovered and most probably came from communities devastated by Covid. But those in attendance were all surviving one of the deadliest plagues in modern history with the least amount of resources. The tournament was the ultimate metaphor for the sentiment and if you were lucky enough to be there, you were able to witness all the healing under one roof.
So the underdog IS winning that battle right now with immunizations and we’re uplifting the entire state of Oklahoma right along with us. I’m proud to be an auntie baller, the underdog because our ancestors may have passed down trauma but they also gave us the resilience to overcome. To do things like ball at this age. To resume our cultural ways with so much love instead of resentment.
We also carry the genome of community and the blood memory of being related to each other. The whole gym was connected, from the youth, to the aunties, to the elders. We were immunized and masked up, we helped each other off the floor, hugged at the end of the tourney and cheered each other on bc that’s what you do when you’re family.
I’m grateful for the instant friendships, the atmosphere to be competitive without judgement, and this writing that truly captured the importance of basketball in our culture and the determination of Aunties. Both are staples and aren’t going anywhere.
I’ll never not be an Auntie Baller.”