BIG CYPRESS — As the Ahfachkee School’s physical footprint expands on its campus with the addition of a new building, so too is its athletics program.

Ahfachkee’s Female Athlete of the Year, Abby Tigertail. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

It wasn’t long ago that the small school on the Big Cypress Reservation annually wrestled with inconsistency. Some years it would field sports teams, but not other years, often wavering due to lack of participation and student eligibility struggles.

But in the past couple years, stability has become a most valuable player for the program. Coaches are not changing on an annual basis. Students are meeting grade requirements. Teams are competing in FHSAA districts, vying for chances to go to regionals and states. Games are far more competitive.

This season’s slate of teams included cross country and volleyball in the fall, girls and boys basketball in the winter, golf and track and field in the spring.

The student-athletes were honored May 6 with an awards luncheon at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium.

“We’re in the infancy stages right now and we plan to grow quickly,” Principal Dorothy Cain told the student-athletes.

Athletics director Matt Beckham said the school plans to add softball next year.

Boys golf MVP Dyami Koenes has plenty of reasons to smile with two trophies. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, who frequently attends games, told the student-athletes that he liked what he saw this year.

“What I saw this year was better coordination and teamwork. What I mean by coordination is working as a team,” he said. “As you go through life, you’ll see that teamwork will be very beneficial to you.”

The student-athletes also heard from guest speaker Nana Allison-Brewer, who is the athletics director and volleyball coach for Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. She told the kids that it’s great to have aspirations to play for colleges such as Florida, Florida State and Miami, but to keep in mind there’s also the option of playing for Haskell.

“You guys have lots of Division I schools here that are on your televisions that are big and bright, but I also want to remember there’s also an all-Native American school in Lawrence, Kansas. We’ve had several Seminole Tribe of Florida members come play for us,” she said.

Allison-Brewer said Haskell offers two- and-four year degrees, including in sports-related fields that deal with health, fitness and recreation.

“We offer a degree so if you want to come back [to your reservation] and run your recreation centers, we can provide you with the degree to have those skills,” she said.

Male Athlete of the Year Jeremiah Pickup. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

In the early 1900s, Haskell competed in football against the nation’s elite, such as Notre Dame, Nebraska and Texas. The school dropped football a few years ago, but plenty of other athletic opportunites are available with teams in men’s and women’s basketball, cross country, golf, softball and volleyball. Allison-Brewer said the school will add men’s and women’s track in the upcoming academic year.

Allison-Brewer (Navajo) also shared her inspirational story about how sports helped her overcome rough, racially-insensitive times while growing up in Farmington, New Mexico.

“In my town, when I was a little girl, probably fifth or sixth grade, you couldn’t just go out for a nice jog without someone throwing a can at you saying ‘You ugly Indian’ or this and that. Really hurtful. My mom was a big runner and I went and jogged with her and she’d get so mad because she’d hear all these racial slurs all the time,” Allison-Brewer said.

Farmington is the area where the book “The Broken Circle” delves into the 1974 murders of two Navajo men by three high school students.

Allison-Brewer said sports provided her an outlet and helped her overcome feeling fearful and intimidated. She went on to play volleyball at the University of New Mexico.

She concluded with a message for the Ahfachkee student-athletes which she applies to her own players as well.

“Show them what we’re capable of doing. We carry ourselves with pride,” she said.

Ahfachkee School 2018-19 sports

award winners

Cross Country

Jeremiah Pickup

Up & Coming

Leslie Gopher

MVP

Boys Golf

Dyami Koenes

MVP

Girls Volleyball

Mya Cypress

Offensive MVP

Janessa Jones

Defensive MVP

Abigail Tigertail

Up & Coming

Lania Bert

Sportsmanship

Leilani Gopher

Rookie of the year

Aaliyah Billie

Most Improved

Alena Stockton

Best Server

Thomlynn Billie

Most Inspirational

Girls Basketball – Two winners for each award

Abigail Tigertail

Offensive MVP

Alena Stockton

Offensive MVP

Carlise Bermudez

Defensive MVP

Ramona Jimmie

Defensive MVP

Destiny Cypress

Up & Coming

Ayliah Billie

Up & Coming

Thomlynn Billie

Sportswoman Award

Leilani Gopher

Sportswoman Award

Boys Basketball – Two Offensive MVPs

Jeremiah Pickup

Offensive MVP

Chanon Frye

Offensive MVP

Dyami Koenes

Defensive MVP

Damien Fish

Defensive MVP

Willie Smith

Up & coming

Leslie Gopher

Sportsmanship Award

Boys Track & Field

Willie Smith

MVP

Jeremiah Pickup

Up & Coming

Athletes of the year and a scholar athlete of the year

Male Athlete of the Year

Jeremiah Pickup

Female Athlete of the Year

Abigail Tigertail

Scholar Athlete of the Year

Janessa Jones

Ahfachkee’s boys basketball players hold their trophies at the school’s awards lunch. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Ahfachkee’s scholar athletes gather for a photo. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Haskell Indian Nations University athletic director and volleyball coach Nana Allison-Brewer talks to Ahfachkee School’s student-athletes during an awards lunch May 6 at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Ahfachkee’s volleyball team is honored at the sports lunch. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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