Last night I went to two ball games in La Grande. The Eastern Oregon women’s and men’s teams handily beat the teams from Corban University in Salem, Oregon.
I went because I love to watch games, not the professional contests of huge and brilliant athletes, but the games of high school and college students playing to win, playing to feel the flush of a 3-pointer going down, an intercepted pass, a single to right in the bottom of the ninth. And, maybe, with a small shred of a dream that it will continue, that I can take what I’m experiencing now to a next level—that I can do this forever.
I also went to the game because an exhibit we developed and displayed at the Josephy Center in April, 2022 is now showing at Quinn Coliseum on the EOU campus. I’ve worked with men’s coach Chris Kemp and Native Studies Director Linda Jerofke to get this exhibit to them and up in their gym lobby. I’ve been following the teams, and get to games when I can.
What I do in my job at the Josephy Center is to try to tell the story of the original people of Northeast Oregon and the Plateau more generally as truthfully as I can—with a lot of Native help! I was pointed in this direction by the late Alvin Josephy, Jr., a journalist and historian who spent a dozen years researching the region and its tribes, talking and sweating with elders—including some who were part of the Nez Perce fighting retreat of 1877!—and writing The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest.
We have Alvin’s private library at the Josephy Center, and we do at least one exhibit each year celebrating and explaining the Indian story for the soyapu, the white descendants of the people who took this land from the original peoples—the Nez Perce, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse. In 2018, Randall Melton and the staff at Tamastslikt on the Umatilla Reservation used materials that the Heard Museum in Arizona to develop an exhibit they called “Beautiful Games.” It showed Native sport from Mesoamerican games to Jim Thorpe and Carlisle football, to the basketball playing Schimmel sisters from the Umatilla Rez.
I wanted to update that exhibit, add more Nez Perce to it, and celebrate the kind of basketball I have been watching when our Joseph High School team plays Nixyaawii, the Umatilla rez team, and when I read Abe Streep’s book about Rezball in Arlee, Montana, Brothers on Three.
I wrote a blog about that months ago, and friend Robert Stubblefield, who teaches at U of Montana, emailed to say that Phil Malatare, one of Arlee’s state champs’ heroes, is now playing at EOU. So, working with Randall, and gathering information and photos from the Lapwai, Idaho coaches, Coach Kemp at EOU, the descendants of legendary baseballer Levi McCormack, and the info I could pick up from books and newspapers, we remade the exhibit and called it “Native Sport.” There’s a panel entitled “Montana Rez Ball to EOU.”
It was good at the Josephy Center, but I am especially proud of it hanging at Quinn Coliseum. I go to games and see people looking over the panels, sometimes taking cellphone photos of the Lapwai boys and girls teams panels. Last night I told a young woman looking at the Levi McCormack panel that Levi was Ann McCormack’s father.
I knew to mention Ann to her because she was walking with a contingent of people from Idaho who had come to watch Emmitt Taylor III’s last game at Quinn as an EOU senior. Three other seniors, Justin Jeske from Spokane, Ismael Valedez from The Bronx, NY, and Malatare, were acknowledged before the game began. Parents, siblings, girlfriends, and children came to stand with the seniors—the largest contingent by far Emmitt Taylor’s Lapwai crew.
I sat in the middle of them during the game, and met Emmitt’s older brother, Dakota, and younger brother, Josh. Josh is playing at Spokane Community College now, and his pic is on the panel of Lapwai high school’s 2021-22 state championship team on the glass window between lobby and gym.
Brother, son, relative, friend Emmitt did not disappoint. He hit two 3s right out the gate, leading EOU to a ten-point lead and an eventual 23-point win against a team that had beat them by 13 just a few days earlier.
That’s the game. All those Taylors had a happy ride home, and so did I.
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(Photo is of OEU seniors, Jeske, Valdez, Malatare, Taylor, taken last night)