SoCal Inter-Tribal Org Offers Kids Chance to Develop on the Court—and Off

ICTMN Staff
12/10/11

The NBA finally returns on Christmas Day, but Native American kids in Southern California will have the opportunity to work on their basketball dreams the next two weekends—but with an emphasis on sportsmanship, community and traditional Native values.

Inter Tribal Sports (ITS), based in Temecula, California will hold two basketball camps to be held at the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Recreation Center gym, which features four full courts and was used by the L.A. Lakers for a practice venue in 2010. The camp begins today and is for the A (18 and under) and B (14 and under) leagues, with a second camp on December 17 for C (10 and under) and D (7 and under) leagues. All are coed and everyone is welcome.  Coaches and players from the nearby Mt. San Jacinto College's women's basketball program (MSJC) will be providing instruction at the December 10 camp.

Both camps will host 150 youth each with priority give to teams that will be participating in the 2012 ITS basketball league. An anticipated 50-plus coed teams and 600 youth from 19 tribes and tribal organizations will be participating in the leagues, with the season beginning on January 14.

“These basketball camps will serve as a perfect launch to the 10th anniversary season of Inter Tribal Sports basketball in Southern California,” says ITS Executive Director Ben Foster. “The inaugural season in 2003 included 17 teams from 8 tribes and tribal organizations.”

ITS launched in 2002, when the Viejas, Barona and San Pasqual tribes, as well as the All Tribes Charter School in the greater-San Diego area, recognized the need to provide more athletic opportunities for their youth.  With a mission to unify tribal youth and communities through structured athletic programs, ITS “is thrilled to offer an opportunity for young athletes to learn the fundamental aspects of the game and hone their basketball skills during these pre-season camps,” says Foster.  “In addition to the skill development, the camps will emphasize values, including sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect.” In its first ten years ITS has served nearly 2,500 individuals from 22 tribes and tribal organizations, including the Viejas, Barona, Sycuan and Pechanga tribes.

In addition to the camps and upcoming basketball season, ITS is also planning to offer multiple opportunities for the young athletes to observe the game of basketball at the collegiate level while promoting higher education. Group outings to local universities will include campus tours, presentations from admissions departments, interactions with Native American student groups, and taking in a game. An outing to the University of San Diego is planned for January 7 and multiple trips to watch the San Diego State Aztecs (SDS), a 2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 participant, are in the works. But the most thrilling aspect of the outings, for players, coaches, and parents, is that ITS has been able to arrange to have the 10-and-under teams play on the court at half time. Last year, four teams had the opportunity to play in front of over 12,000 fans at two different games at the sold-out SDS Viejas Arena at San Diego State.  On December 3 nearly 200 youth and chaperones attended the San Diego State vs. Fresno State football game at Qualcomm Stadium. Last year ITS, with much assistance from NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton, took 300 kids to UCLA for campus tours, admissions presentations, and to watch sophomore power forward Joe Burton, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, and his Oregon State Beavers take on the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. (Burton’s step-father is a coach at MSJC)

“We all recognized there was an absence of opportunity for youth sports,” Foster told ICTMN earlier this year. “The kids could go out to the city leagues and the Pop Warners and Little Leagues. For various reasons, a lot of them weren’t getting involved in that. There were cost factors, travel factors and the separation from their Native peer group. We recognized that there was an opportunity to provide something similar but just for the Native communities. That was really the motivation to start.”

Ten years after that start, ITS has flourished, with the help of the First Nations of Southern California, and even major corporate sponsorship from the likes of NIKE N7.  But it is truly a community effort.

“We are grateful to have local colleges and universities lend their time and expertise to serve as instructors,” says Foster. He adds, “we are extremely grateful to the Pechanga for allowing us to utilize their incredible facilities for the basketball camps and many other events throughout the year. Pechanga is also a three-year Silver Arrow ($50,000) sponsor of the organization.”

And the best part is, Native youth are flourishing because of these efforts, on and off the hardwood.  That’s as exciting and powerful as a Kenny Dobbs slam dunk.

For more info on the upcoming camps, click here.

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