There can be no discussion of South Dakota’s all-time basketball greats without including names like Terry Dupris, Willie White and SuAnne Big Crow, who make up but a small portion of standout Native American athletes on the hard court.
Native American players have continued that rich tradition, from recent Little Wound graduate Nathan Brown Bull to incoming Cheyenne/Eagle Butte senior Creighton LeBeau.
With regard to skill developmental programs tailored to American Indian athletes, however, there’s been little beyond the normal efforts from varsity coaches.
The Sanford POWER Basketball Academy is trying to fill that void, hosting next week the first-ever All-Nations Camp.
The five-hour skill development camp, held at the Sanford Pentagon on Monday from 1 to 6 p.m., will provide a platform for between 150-200 American Indian high school basketball players from South Dakota and six other states in the region.
Monday’s event is the brainchild of Sanford POWER Basketball Academy director Allan Bertram, but the former Toddy County and Chamberlain hoops coach had help from his former colleagues.
“I started my coaching career on the Rosebud Indian Reservation at Todd County high school, and along the way I was able to establish a lot of really good relationships with basketball people,” Bertram said.
Those connections included basketball coaches from schools with largely Native American student populations, including White River’s Eldon Marshall, Red Cloud’s Matt Rama and Rob Mendoza of Cheyenne/Eagle Butte.
“We started to think about this, and kept asking, ‘What can we do to showcase our Native American athletes?” Bertram said. “There are Native American tournaments around the country that showcase, but nothing as far as a camp experience that works on skill development.”
The camp next week will lean heavily on skill development, and will also carve roughly an hour aside for scrimmages.
“We’re going to focus on things that are going to make them better players when they go back home,” Bertram said.
College coaches from the region will also be in attendance. That opportunity can pass players by during the season, particularly for rural schools like many of those found on or near reservations.
The camp also has time set aside to address some of the disparities that affect many American Indian communities.
“We wanted to incorporate some areas that were needed in the lives of the kids that grow up on reservations or low social economic situations,” Bertram said. “We want to take a full-gamut approach.”
To that end, the camp will dedicate an hour to issues regarding nutrition – specifically for athletes, but also every-day nutrition – as well as suicide prevention.
“We’re going to have people come in to talk to the kids about self-esteem and confidence, to speak to some of the factors that affect these kids,” Bertram said.
According to data provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, American Indians/Alaska Natives are over twice as likely to be diagnosed with and die from Type II diabetes.
Federal statistics also show that Native American youths have the highest suicide rates of any ethnicity in the U.S.
Monday’s camp, though, is foremost about basketball – and about tailoring a clinic for athletes who love the game.
“Basketball is a passion, and it’s truly a passion for these young people,” Bertram said. “It’s a game not just to enjoy, but one that provides a great sense of pride for yourself, your community, school and families.”
Bertram and his POWER colleagues also wanted to make sure that access (read: cost) was not a barrier. Registration, which is still open, is just $10 per athlete.
“When you’ve got young people who are passionate about something, it’s our responsibility as adults to provide as many opportunities as we can,” Bertram said. “Regardless of where they’re from, we need to do a better job.”
For more information regarding the All-Nations Camp, contact Allan Bertram at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 605-312-7920.