Keith, Glen, and Dale Johnson from the Makah Nation team traveled 900 miles to play in the Fort Hall Classic Tournament over the weekend. (Lori Edmo-Suppah photo)
By LORI EDMO-SUPPAH
FORT HALL — For some of the 65 plus Fort Hall Classic participants who play in the tourney it isn’t about winning or losing – it’s about surviving.
That is what Dale Johnson, 72, of the Makah Nation said as he laughed with his brothers Glen, 69, and Keith, 65, in the Fort Hall Recreation office April 10. The three brothers travel over 900 miles to play in the tourney and for Dale, he’s competed in the tourney for over 30 years.
He said the Fort Hall tourney is like a nucleus where players come together from every direction. “We all like to play basketball and it’s a real good tourney,” he said. “We look forward to it every year.”
The Makah Nation (people generous with food in the Salish language) is a whaling tribe on the northwest tip of the United States in Neah Bay, Washington. The tribe’s web site says they are the “Cape People,” and are the beginning of the world.
Whale is a traditional food source of the Makah but they’ve only been able to harvest one in 1999. Younger brother Keith is the chairman of the Makah Whaling Commission and he said the issue is hung up in court with public comment on an environmental impact statement. He said it took years to get permits to harvest the one gray whale and it lasted a couple of weeks among their tribal people. They are just exercising their treaty rights but anti whalers have fought against them.
Dale said they’ve known Mike Sakelaris forever, “I hope he never retires,” he continued. Their team just got done playing against Spirit Lake and Glen said he played against Spirit Lake team member Mike Jordan when in high school.
About four years ago Glen had a scare after the tourney ended, he ended up with congestive heart failure, had heart surgery at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello and ended up staying for 30 days. Dale stayed behind with him and joked Glen liked Idaho so much he has an “I” scar on his chest.
Fort Hall Recreation Director Mike Sakelaris said many of the Classic players have interesting stories – some played in high school or college.
The tourney began in 1975 as a 30 and over event when six teams competed at Fort Hall Elementary School. Sakelaris, Wayne and Roger George organized it. Jack Edmo had a team, along with the Tindore brothers. As the players grew older then more divisions were added he said to what it is today.
“This is the most fun of all the tourneys – it’s like a homecoming where they all come together and it’s not about winning or losing it’s about being here to see whose still around,” he continued.
Sakelaris believes next year there will be more 65 plus team’s, as players grow older. In addition, the 2016 event will be the Wayne George Memorial tourney. A ceremony was done in Wayne’s honor prior to All Nations game on April 9. Tom LaPlante did a prayer while Spring Creek Singers sang an honor song. He said Wayne’s ex wife Patricia spoke, along with his niece Rose Ann Abrahamson.
He said all together 46 teams played in the Classic. A total of 48 teams entered but two didn’t show. Sakelaris figured between 450 and 500 players competed. “When you think about the awards that’s 200 pieces of clothing,” he continued plus the trophies. “This is the most expensive tourney.
Ernie Bighorn of the Brockton, Montana team said he’s been coming to the tourney for 40 years. He’s from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and plays with his brothers who’ve been playing basketball since they were five years old. “We seldom pick up new players,” he continued. “We come here because of the atmosphere – with that many teams coming here, it’s amazing how it’s put together.
Bighorn said there are a lot of good people involved and the people on the Fort Hall Reservation are very hospitable – they treat them well and welcome them. “It’s a privilege coming to this tourney and next year our children will be playing,” Bighorn said.
He’s glad that it’s non-alcohol and wants to stay on the “Red Road.” “I believe in honesty and integrity.”
The Bighorns drive upwards of 12 hours from southeastern Montana and Ernie says about the only thing he would suggest for a rule change is for players not be able to jump on teams if they think they’re good. “It’s not fair to those who want to participate in a good way.”