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Tribe wins division in Hawaiian basketball tournament

By Kathryn Stolarz

KANEOHE, Hawaii — The Seminole Tribe of Florida took first prize in their division at a Hawaiian basketball tournament last month.

The third annual Hawaiian Way Fund Basketball Tournament, from Oct. 5-7, pitted the Seminoles against two local teams and one from North Dakota in the 35-and-up division. It was the first time a team from Florida participated in the tournament.

“It was awesome,” said Tribal member Jason Don Billie, who registered the Seminoles’ team after finding out about it on the basketball website www.NativeHoops.com. “We felt very welcomed.”

The Seminoles dominated the court at King Intermediate Gym in Kaneohe, Hawaii, finishing two days of round-robin pool play with a 3-0 record and taking the title after a 55-38 win in the championship game against a Hawaiian team. Team member Dave Smith won the 3-point contest.

“Everybody knew their job,” Billie, of Hollywood, said of his teammates. “Everybody knew what they were best at, and they did it.”

Olelo Community Media filmed the championship games to be televised on some of Hawaii’s local public stations.

“This was a first for our tournament and was a treat for all our participating teams,” wrote Lilia Kapuniai, vice president of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement & Native Hawaiian Economic Alliance in an email. Kapuniai said they also expanded the tournament to three divisions this year, one women’s and two men’s age groups.

Hollywood Councilman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. sponsored the Seminoles’ entry fee, which benefited the Hawaiian Way Fund, an organization supporting Native Hawaiians’ community- and culture-based initiatives.

The Seminole team won a cash prize, a wooden bowl (a customary gift in Hawaiian culture, Kapuniai said) and a plaque, as well as bragging rights. However, the title didn’t come without setbacks on and off the court. Four of the original seven teammates dropped out before the tournament, leaving Billie, fellow Tribal member Elton Shore, of Brighton, and Yaqui Tribal member Smith, from Arizona, to rebuild the team.

Billie said he found players through more than 15 years of connections he’s made traveling and playing basketball. He welcomed the following players onto the team: Ione Emosi, Faamoana Emosi, Iosefo Emosi, Faatea Emosi and Tevita Sevao, of Samoa; Mitch Granite, of the Pawnee Tribe; and Kurt Schwamp, of the Oneida Tribe in Washington.

Once the team regrouped, they came out ready to win, but Billie wasn’t ready for the injury he would suffer.

Halfway through their first tournament game, Billie tore his ACL, taking him out of play for the rest of the competition. But despite the setbacks, he held on to fond memories of his team winning the tournament, as well as of exchanging culture at the 11th annual Native Hawaiian Convention that preceded it.

The convention is “the largest gathering of community members, organizations, policy makers, legislative representatives and federal agencies interested in Native Hawaiian community development,” according to their website. At a convention luncheon on Oct. 4, Kapuniai chatted with Billie about culture, sovereignty and government, as well as introduced him to about 500 convention attendees.

“I think it’s safe to say Hawaiians and Seminoles have started a friendship, and we look forward to hosting them in the islands for basketball, business, or both,” Kapuniai wrote.
Shore acknowledged the bond as well.

“After each game, [Hawaiians] always didn’t shake hands – they gave a hug,” he said.
Billie and Shore said the Seminoles will be back for next year’s tournament.

Halfway through their first tournament game, Billie tore his ACL, taking him out of play for the rest of the competition. But despite the setbacks, he held on to fond memories of his team winning the tournament, as well as of exchanging culture at the 11th annual Native Hawaiian Convention that preceded it.

The convention is “the largest gathering of community members, organizations, policy makers, legislative representatives and federal agencies interested in Native Hawaiian community development,” according to their website. At a convention luncheon on Oct. 4, Kapuniai chatted with Billie about culture, sovereignty and government, as well as introduced him to about 500 convention attendees.

“I think it’s safe to say Hawaiians and Seminoles have started a friendship, and we look forward to hosting them in the islands for basketball, business, or both,” Kapuniai wrote.
Shore acknowledged the bond as well.

“After each game, [Hawaiians] always didn’t shake hands – they gave a hug,” he said.
Billie and Shore said the Seminoles will be back for next year’s tournament.

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