Written by: Bill Murdock
Native Americans have held a long and proud heritage and history. Their accomplishments have transcended the worlds of agriculture, business, government, language, medicine and innovation.
The realm of sports is no different as the names of Jim Thorpe, Billy Mills, and Jack and Gerald Brisco will forever be enshrined in the annals of the Olympics, track and field and wrestling respectively. Native American athletes have brought honor to their tribes and their country as well as excitement to the sports in which they competed. And now the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and wrestling will honor them with an event this summer which will crown a new group of national champions.
On June 3-5, the inaugural First Nations Nationals Wrestling Tournament will be held in Sisseton, South Dakota and has already garnered national attention before the wrestlers step on the mat.
As with most great events, the tournament began with a simple idea: to give Native American wrestlers a chance to compete against each other in an event which would not only spotlight the sport of wrestling but also to pay tribute to their heritage.
“We were hosting a tournament a few months ago, when a friend of mine, Dustin Kirk asked me why didn’t we have something for our Native American wrestlers?” recalls Bob Johnson, chairman of AAU Wrestling. “We quickly saw this as a tremendous opportunity to give the Nations a chance to compete with others for the first time ever. We also want to give these athletes not only a great chance to compete but to give them the best experience possible by bringing in South Dakota State University head wrestling coach, three-time All-American and 1996 NCAA champion Chris Bono for a free day-and-a-half clinic on June 3 and 4 at Sisseton High School.”
Derrick McCauley, Great Plains Regional Representative and event organizer is looking forward to the tournament as much as the competitors are.
“It is exciting to be able to part of the First Nations National Championships. We are looking forward to hosting 30 or more tribes and have already heard from teams from Wisconsin, Montana, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Dakota. It is great to be able to give these kids a chance to compete at the best level possible and for them to be able to see the accomplishments of other Native Americans and say ‘If they can do it — we can do it.’”
The Chair of First Nations, Richard Blankenship is grateful to be affiliated with the AAU and sees the benefits of the tournament going far beyond the crowning of the First Nations national champions.
“This tournament is not just about the contests on the mat. It is every bit as much about the journey as it is about the competition. It is about the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve their goals in wrestling and in life. Some area’s wrestling is not that big and many athletes don’t get the chance to wrestle to experience competition on such a higher level. This June is Sisseton, they will have that chance.”
“There has been much talk about a tournament like this for years,” said Gerald Brisco, a member of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, and former Oklahoma State wrestler from the late 1960s. “This is an incredible honor for the sport of wrestling and all Native Americans. I truly thank everyone involved for this wonderful event.”
For more information please visit www.aauwrestling.net.
“This tournament is not just about the contests on the mat. It is every bit as much about the journey as it is about the competition. It is about the hard work and
dedication it takes to achieve their goals in
wrestling and in life.” —
First Nations Chair
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