HOLLYWOOD — As he sat at the scorer’s table in the gymnasium named in memory of his dad, Mike Tiger smiled while he watched a group of boys pick up a basketball and freely play, sprinting from one end of the court to the other.
No refs, no coaches, no scorekeeping; just kids enjoying a few minutes on a Friday evening with a ball and friends at the Howard Tiger Recreation Center on the Hollywood Reservation.
“You can tell these boys are having the time of their lives, running back and forth, getting good exercise,” Mike said.
Providing recreational opportunities for the Seminole Tribe’s youth and adults – be it basketball, baseball, boxing, football and other sports – is one of the many lasting legacies left by Mike’s father, who was one of the Tribe’s first recreation directors.
“My dad had a special way of implanting good, positive recreation for everyone, men, women and children,” Mike said. “He brought about the thought process of “Hey, let’s have recreation for everybody’.”
Eventually the boys on the court scattered to the sidelines as adults came out to warm up for the second day of the 50th annual Howard Tiger Memorial Basketball Tournament held April 19-21. Reaching a milestone year carried extra significance.
“They’re all special, but this one is really special,” Mike said.
A ceremony started with the entrance of a military honor guard. Fond memories of Howard, including his athletic and military accomplishments and his leadership skills, were shared with the audience by Mike and Moses Jumper Jr., Howard’s nephew.
“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since we started this tournament,” said Moses, who described Howard as “our Jim Thorpe of the Seminole Tribe“ and “probably our greatest athlete.”
Howard’s legacy extended from the playing fields to the battle fields. Moses told the audience about his dad – Moses Jumper Sr. – and Howard were the first two Seminoles to enlist in the military.
“That was back in the 1940s, World War II,” Moses said. “They wanted to represent not only their country, but their people.
“I’m proud that my father and my uncle were the veterans that they were. They fought in World War II. Howard was part of the battle of Iwo Jima … and my dad was in the Navy and fought in the Pacific. They were great military men.”
Howard was the Tribe’s first Marine. He came home from the war, got married, moved around North Carolina for work, including Cherokee, started a family and then decided to return to his roots in Hollywood in 1957.
“We lived in a chickee on the church property. There was no housing,” Mike recalled.
Howard’s leadership was prevalent throughout his life, something that benefited the Tribe in multiple areas. In addition to playing semi-professional baseball and football, he served as president of the Tribe and was a coach and mentor in several sports for Tribal kids growing up in the 1950s and 60s.
Mike said his dad was “a natural-born leader” and “a natural-born athlete.”
It’s been 51 years since Howard passed. The tournament started a year later. He was inducted posthumously into the Tribe’s sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and was joined in the Hall a few years later by Mike. The Howard Tiger Recreation Center, whose lobby includes the Hall’s display cases and a bronze bust of Howard, opened in 2014, giving the Tribal community a first-class facility.
“Kids, think about where we came from, and it’s something to be proud of to where you are today because you’ve got great facilities,” Moses told the audience.
“These little kids don’t remember him, they don’t know him, but they know that it’s named after him,” said Howard’s daughter Ruscilla “Rusty” Tiger, who wore a grey U.S. Marines T-shirt at the tournament. She pointed in the direction of the ball fields behind the Rec Center and remembered how her dad cleared that land so youth would have a place to play.
“He wanted it for the kids.”
That field, and others in the area, became second homes for Ruscilla Tiger while growing up in an athletic family.
“I was always on a ball field,” she said. “My brothers played [sports], so I would run around and play. I had to know the score at the end of the games because when we were going home [my dad] would ask me what was the score. So I had to find out who won and what the score was so I could tell him on the way home.”
Ruscilla, Mike and Moses played in that first tournament 50 years ago. Not all the players are still around, but the stories remain.
During the ceremony, Moses talked about how the first tournament was held on the outdoor court with wire nets. He reeled off the names of the first championship team, the Chiefs, which included Mike Tiger, Howard Tommie, Cecil Johns and others, and the runner-up team which included himself, Max Osceola, Truman Bowers, Steven Bowers, Moses Osceola and Reuben Billie.
At the end of the ceremony, Mike and Ruscilla received plaques that express the Seminole Tribe Recreation Department’s gratitude to the Tiger family for allowing the tournament to be held as a tribute to Howard. Adam LoBrutto, Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class, made the presentation of the plaques. He received emotional salutes from both Mike and Ruscilla.
The last sentence on the plaque states: “He will always be remembered as a veteran, hunter, fisherman, athlete, leader, and friend of youth.”
Champions in the 50th Howard Tiger Memorial Basketball Tournament were: Adrianna’s (women 18+), Natives (men 18+), N.F.G. (men 35+), Lady Seminoles (women 35+) and Hot Mix (Co-ed 50+).
Adrianna’s was led by sharp-shooting 3-point specialist Jenna Plumley. The former University of Oklahoma and Lamar University guard scored 58 points in the women 18+ championship game against the Lady Seminoles and 46 in another. In the final, Adrianna’s also received big games from Mercedes Osceola (13 points), Ashley Wilcox (8 points) and Anna Van Stippen (7 points). Ariah Osceola led the Lady Seminoles with 21 points in the championship game.
Natives outgunned Soul Plain, 106-89, in the men 18+ title game. Soul Plain didn’t have an answer for tall center Nate Lang, who poured in 31 points Natives’ scoring was spread out as Hunter Osceola netted 26 points and Greg Carter had 24 points.
Ethan Cypress hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 25 points for Soul Plain.
In a battle between the only two teams in the women’s 35+ division, the Lady Seminoles swept Hollywood Ladies in two games, 39-26 and 34-18. In one of the victories RaeAnn West led the Lady Seminoles with 14 points followed by Danielle Frye and Stacey Jones with eight points each.
Only two men’s teams competed for the 35+ title. NFG swept Old Skool, 46-38 and 42-29. Kenny Tommie scored a combined 26 points to lead NFG, which received 19 points from Milo Osceola.
Hot Mix, organized by Aaron Billie, won the Co-ed 50+ division without much problem. The only other team in the division did not show up.