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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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'War Party' Helps Create Peace At Home
by Sarah Dixon Young - Devils Lake Journal Guest Writer
A group of parents from the Spirit Lake Reservation has discovered the secret to meaningful relationships with their children.

Involvement, encouragement, and time have paid off in the lives of their preteen girls. The parents began a traveling basketball team called "War Party" last year and are already seeing the fruit of their labor.

"Because of the team, Riah works harder at home and at school," said parent Kayla Robertson, "She's appreciative and says, 'I really love you, mom.'"

Seven girls in the fifth and sixth grades participate in War Party, the traveling team put together by parents and coached by Rory Littleghost and Sean Gourd who are also dads to some of the players. War Party plays in weekend tournaments all over the state of North Dakota and is made up of Native American girls with ties to the Spirit Lake Nation.

"I always wanted my kids to play," says assistant coach Rory Littleghost, "I took my daughter to the school and showed her my name on a trophy from when I played. It's good to be able to share that."

Sean Gourd and Rory Littleghost played basketball together during their youth and shared a desire for their daughters to have an encouraging environment in which to learn the game. The girls - Riah, Marissa, Laila, Shaelynn, Katie, Tasha, and Hailey, shared an interest in the game of basketball and the bond of friendship. Last year, their parents and grandparents committed to helping with the team's needs, travel costs, and training, and War Party was born. The name came from a league team that Rory and Sean played in together.

"A lot of people are blown away by their progress," said mom Mena de la Paz, "They've just gotten better and better and folks just like to stay and watch them play."

The girls attend different schools in Ft. Totten, Minnewakan, and Devils Lake. Typically, the fifth and sixth grade basketball season runs for only a short time each Fall. However, with the War Party traveling team, the girls are able to practice their skills and compete for a large part of each year. They begin practices in the Fall and will have a tournament as late as July this season. Occasionally, they play against older middle school teams for increased competition.

Parent involvement is crucial to the success of the team. Over half of the parents contribute their time and resources each weekend to travel or to help with fund raisers. Travel to each tournament can cost $900, and the parents supplement donations from the Spirit Lake Casino and the Spirit Lake Tribe with fundraisers like food sales, prize bingos and raffles.

"We couldn't do this without sponsors and people who support us," Rory Littleghost says, "Fundraising is the hardest part, but it's paying off when we get to help our girls succeed."

A little success and encouragement from loved ones goes a long way for the girls.

"I watch the girls when they walk in a gym, and they see a crowd of people cheering for the other teams. They want someone to cheer for them, and we are their support system," says Kayla Robertson, "We're the only ones there for them."

The parents enjoy the sacrifices they make because they are supporting their daughters in something that interests them while instilling important life skills.

"They aren't just learning basketball," says Mena de la Paz, "They are learning a good work ethic, sportsmanship, and financial accountability. It's not just the adults doing the work for them. They had to clean this gym themselves and get it ready for this weekend's tournament."

During the first weekend in May, War Party hosted a local tournament and invited twenty-eight other local and state teams to participate. The girls earned first in their division and fourth overall in this tournament.

War Party has experience with tourneys elsewhere. At the end of April, they participated in the 2014 Pacesetter Tournament in Grand Forks. They took second place and qualified for the Pacesetter Great Four-State Tournament to be held in Minneapolis, MN in July.

"The girls will get to play on the Target Center floor which is pretty sweet," said dad and coach Sean Gourd, "I am very proud of these girls."

Coach Gourd played college basketball at the University of Mary and Bismarck State College. Two of his daughters participate in the team. Rory Littleghost also coaches, and the idea was born out of a desire his daughter had to spend more time with him playing basketball. He has high standards for his players.

"They can't miss practice, and it's three times a week," says Kayla Robertson, "They have to have good grades and good behavior."

All of the girls are on their school's honor rolls, and they exhibit good sportsmanship.

"I like how proud they are - the self-esteem they have - even if they lose," said mom Chelsey Carpenter, "I'm surprised sometimes that my daughter doesn't get upset. They have to work to stay on the team though, being respectful, keeping up their grades, and staying out of trouble. It really gives them an incentive."

While the girls mentioned hanging out with their friends and getting the opportunity to travel as some of their favorite things about participating, their enjoyment of their parents' participation is obvious.

"When we're with them in the gym all evening at a practice or at a fundraiser all weekend, they know that we care about them," says Kayla Robertson, "Then they come to us about all sorts of other stuff and want advice. I like to know that I can help them."

While acknowledging that many of these girls face challenges like poverty and broken family structure, War Party parents fight to help their girls overcome these challenges by staying involved in their lives and valuing them and their talents.

Player Riah Littleghost had her jersey signed by Shone Schimmel who is only the second Native American woman to be drafted into the WNBA. Schimmel plays for the Atlanta Dream and attended a meet and greet in Mandaree. Riah's parents knew that she admired Schimmel and so drove to Mandaree and enjoyed seeing her meet the famous player.

"Having positive role models is just another reason why we encourage her in sports," said Riah's mom Kayla, "She looks up to Shone Schimmel and also Dawn Black who is a player for the Four Winds High School girls' team. They are both good role models."

"War Party keeps our girls active and busy in the afternoons and on weekends doing something positive," said Mena de la Paz, "It's nice to see them gaining independence and having the controlled freedom to get better at something they love."

By investing in the lives of their children, War Party parents also invest in the Spirit Lake community.

"When we go places, and they ask where we're from, it's nice to be able to show them that there are some good people at Spirit Lake. We love our kids, and we want to see them succeed," says Kayla.

Community members also attend local tournaments to cheer War Party on.

"Younger kids and parents get to hear about people they know having success," says Rory Littleghost, "It encourages them to start their own team or some other way to get involved with their kids."

War Party has won six tournaments this year. Players and parents will be hosting several fundraisers and events in the coming months to fund their trip to Minneapolis where they will participate in the Pacesetter Tournament.

Win or lose, they will be doing it together.

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