Courtesy GinaMarie Scarpa
GinaMarie with Ernie Stevens Jr. in the NABI booth at a NIGA conference.

Talking Native Basketball With NABI Cofounder GinaMarie Scarpa

Vincent Schilling
5/28/13

Because she remembers the positive influences that nonprofit youth organizations had on her life while growing up in the inner city of Boston, GinaMarie Scarpa has dedicated her life to working with today’s impressionable youth.

In 2003, after almost nine years with the A.C. Green Youth Foundation,  Scarpa cofounded the NABI (Native American Basketball Invitational) tournament for Native American youth players with Mark West, vice president of player programs for the NBA's Phoenix Suns.

In 2010, with a shared vision to use basketball as a tool to create college scholarship opportunities for Native American high school athletes, the pair established the NABI Foundation, a no-profit organization with the mission of growing the NABI tournament and implementing new programs to serve Native American youth.

But three years before the establishment of the foundation, Scarpa was directly responsible for encouraging the NCAA to change its governing rules to allow Native American athletes to compete in NCAA-certified tournaments as members of sovereign nations.

This change opened the door for talented Native athletes to be scouted by Division I and II colleges and allowed the NABI tournament to make history by becoming the first all Native American tournament certified by the NCAA. 

In her role as chief executive officer of the NABI Foundation, Scarpa is directly responsible for sponsorship development, program development, tournament organization and operations, public and community relations. In addition to her work with NABI, she has also served as a board member on the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs

Scarpa says she was glad to see the exposure gained by the Schimmel Sisters and other Native players such as Angel Goodrich during the  2013 NCAA women's basketball tournament. As part of ICTMN's Conversations With Champsions series, Scarpa discussed the state of the NABI, its exciting growth, and her thoughts about the accomplishments of Native American basketball players.

What is NABI up to these days?

NABI is up to a lot of things! As of 2010 we became a 501(c)(3) youth nonprofit; we implemented our NABI Youth Physical Education Program on Native land in the Phoenix area;  and we are serving youth ages  6-13 through a 10 week curriculum to combat childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

As for fund-raising, we’ve just launched our Friends of NABI Club for tribes and organizations wishing to support our youth and programs. We are constant need of funding to keep our growing programs going.

We also just moved into our new much needed larger offices in Phoenix. We are growing so fast. It’s nice now to have the room we need to fit our growing programs and staff. 

How can NABI benefit today’s Native youth?

NABI’s ultimate goal is for the advancement of Native American athletes. Through our tournaments, programs and college fund, NABI is a tool to showcase and create opportunities for our talented youth. Sports are a tool in which we create these opportunities. We want to encourage our Native youth to know they can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it and tap into the power of believing in themselves. We will be there to assist them in their journey.

What is a key for Native youth to overcome difficulties?

Perseverance is the key as well as the "I can" attitude. When we hear about stories of success, the underlining theme is perseverance. Some of our greatest athletes made it through difficulties and situations (abuse, poverty, drugs, and abandonment) and when our youth hear their stories, most of them can relate because some of them are going through just that. Greatness is born out of knowing we all are talented and have a God-given gift.  We need to be able to identify opportunities and be prepared to wrestle them to the ground when they come to you. Let nothing get in your way!

What did you think of the Schimmel sisters and Angel Goodrich’s accomplishments this year?

Beyond excitement!  I’ve been following Angel ever since she played in NABI. I knew she had what it took to accomplish being drafted into the WNBA. Even with her injuries and though she could have given up, she didn’t!  Perseverance was the key and she never gave up! 

I am so proud of her and can’t wait to be in the arena for her first game.  As for Shoni and Jude, they showed the world “rezball.” They demonstrated the style, talent and determination of Native American athletes. I think the sports world will start taking notice, finally. They changed the game and brought hope to all of our athletes.

How do you think the success of Native ballplayers will help NABI help other Native players?

For over 10 years, NABI has been promoting our talented Native athletes and has done a great job in creating opportunities to advance them in college sports and education. Angel, Shoni and Jude just brought this fight front and center. Because the media outlets have been following them and mentioning they are Native American, these three girls have just parted the Red Sea for our youth!

Let’s hope and believe the colleges are taking notice and will begin scouting more on Native lands and through tournaments and organizations that support Native athletes.  And pro leagues should take notice too, like Major League Baseball announcing it's organizing a baseball camp in Cuba for teens. How about organizing a camp on Native lands!?  NABI will be more than happy to partner with them on that program!

Anything you'd like to say to ICTMN readers?

There are still openings for teams to register for our 2013 baseball and softball tournaments! The NABI basketball tournament reached its goal with a record-breaking 128 teams (1,600 athletes) registered.

The newest news is that Angel Goodrich, Shoni and Jude Schimmel will be the recipients of the 2013 NABI Phil Homeratha Leadership Award given out during the NABI championship games every year. Also, Rick and CeCe Schimmel will be conducting one of the NABI Educational Seminars held during NABI.

Next April 19 and 20, 2014 is the PHX 3on3 basketball tournament. NABI Foundation has partnered with Spokane Hoopfest, Phoenix Suns Charities and US Airways Center to bring a HUGE open three-on-three tournament to Phoenix. Presented by Ak-Chin Indian Community, the PHX 3on3 will have 75 courts in the streets of downtown Phoenix! Our goal is to raise funds to build outdoor courts on Native lands. We are really excited about this tournament and the potential it has to grow into an annual national three-on-three tournament…..so ballers: save the date! 

Interested in becoming involved with NABI? Their website is NABIFoundation.org, and they are also on Twitter @NABIFoundation.

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