Region Champions

Ahhh!  Basketball playoffs!  They are the best!  Tuesday we got to watch the Chamberlain Cubs pull off an exciting upset win over the Eagle Butte Braves to take home the Regional Championship.  St. Joseph’s took a fan bus to Pierre, South Dakota to support the Cubs, and several staff and homes caravanned along as well.

Everyone seems to like something different about going to a basketball game.  Some of our kids just like to hang out and socialize with friends.  They don’t even seem to know that a game is going on.  As long as they get their giant dill pickle and blue Powerade from the concession stand, they are set.

Some of our kids (and staff/parents) watch the game but still don’t know what is going on.  They like to make helpful suggestions like, “Put in [insert kid’s name]!!”  Or, if the kid is already in the game, “Go!  Score! Win!”

It doesn’t really matter that he is playing defense, after all.

In every crowd there are people who actually know what is going on.  They know the difference between a block and a charge.  They know a steal from a foul and whether that pivot foot travelled.  They keep stats and holler out useful suggestions,

“Watch your follow through!  Keep your head up!”

Of course, sometimes there is a debate as to whether the people “in the know” are the ones in the stands, or the men in the stripes out on the floor.   This is a good time to go to the concession stand.

I personally like to join the cheerleaders.  I have three in my home.  Most days I see them wandering the halls, swinging their arms and muttering cryptic phrases like “Eat ‘em up Cubs.”  Or beat ‘em up?  Team ‘em up?

You would think I would have figured out the cheers by now … but no.  The Cub Mascot is also a St. Joseph’s student, and his houseparent shares my confusion.  For now, we have decided that the words to the fight song are simply “Na na na na nanana,” at high volume.

Chamberlain Cubs team pictures.
Who doesn't love basketball? Congratulations!

The best part of this game?   Several of our St. Joseph’s students are from Eagle Butte, so visiting with friends and family was wonderful.  Somebody got to play with an adorable baby niece with big pink cheeks.  Sigh.

Oh, and watching our 6 foot senior go up and get his Regional medal.

And our junior forward, injured in a game last week, getting carried out on his teammate’s shoulders so he could cut down the game net.  Priceless.

Did I mention that we won?  And that we’re going to state?

What’s your favorite part about high school basketball?  

Responsibilities and opportunities

Four of our Carola Home boys and two boys from the Sheehy Home played for the very successful  JV Chamberlain basketball team this year (their ending record was 14-1). Our guys have truly enjoyed earning their success through hard work and practice. They have learned valuable skills not only on the court but also off. They have discovered the importance of teamwork, dedication, time management and keeping up with their class work. The coaches have a strict policy of school work before playing time in the games. For most, it only took one game of sitting on the bench and not getting to play before they realized the importance of keeping their assignments caught up. They have learned how to manage practices, games, school work, friends, home life, as well as, finding time to rest. With the basketball season nearing an end, our boys are already looking forward to track and baseball.

This year we have three boys who have earned their driving privileges. This is a new thing for our home. They boys have taken drivers education, drove, with very nervous houseparents:), passed their driving test at the local DMV and then passed the “dreaded” driving test and safety speech from our safety and security man Mr. Clark.  The boys were given a 1993 Ford Taurus wagon to drive and take care of. It has been around the block more than once, but our guys drive it with a smile on their face.  I smile as I watch them drive away remembering my first car and how I still remember the color and smell. They know that if they take care of it they will be able to drive a nicer car next year.  The boys are allowed a set number of miles each week. This will get them to and from school and to and from practices. They can pay for additional miles if they work. This past Sunday I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the boys asked me to drive him to the store because he was tired of driving. I would like thank all of our donors who make these experiences possible through their generous support. Each new privilege brings new responsibilities and opportunities to teach life lessons.

Pray for us as we continue to encourage our American Indian students to become the men God wants them to be.


Huge grins and a warm handshake

This afternoon was our annual rivalry basketball game with Chamberlain’s 7th and 8th grade teams to earn bragging rights for the year. Both teams play hard to win, but since many play together in our fall intercity basketball league, there is also a good sense of familiarity and friendship. I noticed at the tip-off of the 8th grade game, Michael was jumping against a boy he played on the same team with in the fall. They had huge grins and gave a warm handshake before the competition began.

Chamberlain has a strong group of 7th graders, and easily defeated our crew. In the 8th grade, we have a strong group of boys and definitely had a height advantage. But, the Cubs played good team ball and forced overtime. Our Braves finally won by three. Since it’s really a local game for both schools, we had a great crowd in the stands to cheer the players on. Many of our staff had kids or grandchildren playing for the Cubs, and most of us had to root for all the kids on both sides of the ball.

A reporter from the local newspaper came to interview me about the progress of our Akta Lakota Museum expansion and alumni/ historical center. The workers have lifted the ceiling beams into place and are working on roofing now, so it’s really taking shape. Still, it will take another year plus for the whole project to be completed.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day! At the end of the day our students passed out cards, many store-bought, but a few homemade, to friends and classmates. The boys at Cyr Home baked treats to share with their 4th and 5th grade classmates – yummy and very appreciated!

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, in my spiritual reading, I came across this quote about love from Pedro Arupe, former superior general of the Jesuits:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

In my weekly meeting with Mike, director of Child Services, we discussed our Lakota cultural programming. In our strategic plan we identified the need to add another staff position to complement what we are already doing in this regard. We’re looking at moving forward and hiring someone for next school year. We have begun some good things in terms of dance, drum group and language and see the need for continued staff education and development as well.

At the William Home (4th and 5th grade girls) for supper, I got to meet Chuck, our newest houseparent, who is shadowing Mike and Jessica to learn how we do childcare here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Chuck had his two year old son Izzy with him, and the girls were quite enamored with the little guy. Izzy had a dozen big sisters willing to play and watch after him, and seemed to enjoy the attention.

A busy weekend at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Our weekend was filled with lots of activity. Friday evening, grades 1-5 gathered in the Rec Center for a Valentine’s Day Sobriety Carnival. Older students helped with the games, which included a fish pond, bean bag throw and ring toss, to name a few. We had lots of smaller prizes sent in by our donors, and the students were happy to win fun little knick-knacks, toys and games.

Lots of kids lined up at the cake walk, trying to win a small personal-sized cake. We joked that as many dill pickles as our Native American students buy at the concession stand during basketball games, we could try a pickle walk instead and it would be just as popular!

Fr. Steve, getting a heart face painted on his face!
Who doesn't love a little face paint?

One group of junior high girls staffed a face painting station, and many of the students got colorful temporary decorations to highlight their features. I got in the act and, since it is Valentine’s Day, (or maybe because I’m a Priest of the Sacred Heart), I got a bright red heart painted on my cheek.

After the younger students cleared out, grades 6-12 came back for a dance. Chris, a junior in high school, helped DJ. He pointed out to me that he’d edited a lot of the popular songs on his playlist so they could be marked with an asterisk denoting “clean,” meaning there was no inappropriate language.

Like many dances, boys spent most of the time on one side of the room, and girls on the other. A few brave souls occasionally ventured out. By the last two songs of the night, everyone wanted to dance, and  bemoaned the fact it was ending so early.

Saturday we hosted a four team 8th grade basketball tournament. St. Joseph’s won their first game. We played Pierre Indian Learning Center evenly in the first half of the championship game, but they caught fire in the third quarter and won going away. The Stevens Home (6th – 8th grade girls) made chili dogs and sloppy joes for the concession stand, along with some homemade baked goodies that were popular with players and fans alike. They’re saving up money to get a few extra fun things for their home.

The Summerlee Home (4th-5th grade girls) took a day trip to Sioux Falls and spent the day learning to ice skate. They came home a little sore, but with lots of giggles and laughter and are eager to try again soon.

Our local bowling alley has eight lanes, and St. Joseph’s had them all for a couple of hours Saturday night as the high school students had a bowling party. Some take the bowling more seriously than others, but all have a good time just hanging out. There was a 25 cent prize for each strike, and students pooled their money to pick songs to play on the juke box.

Saturday also brought another dance, this one in town, for 6th-8th grade students. Several of our boys have joined the local Explorers Club, which is a service organization that teaches them to become young gentlemen, and give back in service to the community. This dance was held at the public elementary school, and our students mingled well with peers from town. As our kids do more with Chamberlain children now, it starts to build relationships that will make the transition to public high school less scary for them later.

Sunday at church, Peter from the Raphael Home (1st-3rd grade boys) introduced me to our newest first grader, who just began this week. He told me the child was both excited and nervous because he had never been to church before, and didn’t quite know what to expect. His housemates helped him figure out when to stand and when to sit, and where to find prayers in the books, and it turned out okay.

Sunday afternoon, our junior high girls had two rounds of inter-city basketball. Afterwards, I hung around the gym when the younger grades came in for their recreation time. I worked with a couple of young girls on how to pass a basketball and shoot a layup, then took some time just walking around the gym and talking to the kids. Most of the time they seem me in black clerical attire, and they were fascinated to see me in sweat pants and shirt, learning that I do have other clothes!

Student projects doing great

A couple interesting student projects of note. The William Home (4th-5th grade girls) has set a goal this quarter of 10,000 cumulative laps around the gym. Several mornings each week the home gets up early and goes out for a walk and exercise. They are keeping a thermometer on the door to the fitness room and coloring in their progress as they reach each new level. They’ve already passed the 3500 mark!

Gina’s computer class is spending a few minutes each day at the website Free Rice where fun quizzes increase their knowledge, make learning fun and educate them about hunger issue throughout the world. The students were talking about the activity even on the playground, so I knew it was a big hit.

Today was my day to run errands in town, to the bank and county building. While out, I stopped in to check on our folks downtown at our Thrift Store. With February around the corner, they’re redecorating with lots of red clothing for Valentine’s Day. The store is a great service to the community, and a good after school job opportunity for a few of our Lakota students.

St. Joseph's Indian School's cheeleaders.
These girls did a great job cheering on the basketball teams!

I ended the day in the gym, where our 6th-8th grade teams were in action. Besides the players, I cheer for our cheerleaders and encourage them to keep on improving. They had the help of our younger students, the 1st-3rd graders, who make up the pep club. This year they all have matching shirts that are St. Joseph’s basketball-style jerseys. They sure get both enthusiastic and loud when they start cheering. Half way through the games however, the time came for them to leave for supper, homework and bedtime. The gym quieted down considerably, but the action was still close and worth cheering for.

Talking through joys and stresses

We’re continuing to meet with different departments to discuss the new Strategic Plan. While the first couple of groups were large, 20 – 30 people, today’s meeting with the Rec Center staff meant that three of us were listening to the ideas and feedback of a group of four. I quite preferred that because we had some interesting ideas and back and forth dialogue and the staff came away with a much better understanding of the difference they can make in the plan, and some opportunities the plan can open up for them. We have lots of good ideas for wellness and new activities for staff and Native American students alike. Like life in general, we’ll have to choose a few and let some go. There’s neither time nor staff nor facilities to do everything we’d like.

Shelly, who is a relatively new staff member, appreciated being asked her opinion. “You really want to know what we employees think!” she remarked to me. We sure do. It’s from our staff that we get most of our best ideas.

I ate supper with the Sheehy Home (boys high school). Half the guys were still at basketball practice when I arrived, and the other half were playing NBA basketball video games. I wonder what the favorite spot around here is?!  After supper the high school students who are applying for our June exchange program with our sister school in Handrup Germany gathered. One of the duties of those chosen will to give a series of presentations to the classrooms overseas. Maija, who trains houseparents, gave the American Indian students some pointers on how to prepare. In a couple of weeks, their power point presentations of “Life at St. Joseph’s” will be used to help select which students will represent our school.

The high schoolers ended the evening with their Sons and Daughters of Tradition session, which included a talking circle to help process joys and stresses that occurred in their lives over the holidays.


My Christmas spirit is definitely building

I went over to the school and couldn’t find anybody!

I spent most of the day in my office,  answering mail, fielding phone calls and had a meeting about fundraising and strategic planning. About 3:00, I realized I hadn’t spent any time with the students, so I walked over to the school. That begins their normal study hall time and is a good time to make the rounds. With no formal classroom instruction going on, it’s a little more laid back and I can wander around and find out what the students have been learning. Because the students have some specialist classes and move around to different classrooms, I didn’t think anything was amiss when I found the first two classrooms empty. But after three and four empty rooms, I wondered what was going on. The 7th and 8th graders were away on a field trip. The rest of the classes were over in the chapel, practicing their songs for Wednesday’s Christmas program. As we wind down the semester, the excitement and Christmas spirit is definitely building.

Our girls 7th and 8th grade basketball teams had some fun time together to finish up the season. The girls played basketball and followed that with a pizza party. I shot around with the girls for a while. It’s a great ice breaker and while often you don’t talk about a lot significant, it builds up trust and rapport.

Lots going on

The girls had so much fun dancing like dolls!
The girls had so much fun dancing like dolls!

During mass, we held the Rite of Acceptance for those students preparing for baptism next spring. Even though the prayers are simple, they mean a lot . I find that children are often far more committed to prayer than I am, and they inspire me to do better.

The Dancing Dolls and Dudes program filled the town Armory to capacity and was entertaining. Last year, we experimented by having our 4th and 5th graders participate, since it means juggling our schedule here and getting the students to town to practice each week. But it was so successful and appreciated that this year we opened it up to the primary grades as well.

A good number of families attended to cheer their children on and watch the cleverly choreographed routines. But  some of our students don’t have family close by, or have family members unable to come. In the days leading up to today’s big show, at least seven or eight of our students looked at me with big eyes and asked if I could be there. How could I every say no to that kind of  request from an eight year old?

The greatspirit of fun and good sportsmanship fill St. Joseph's Indian School's gym!
The greatspirit of fun and good sportsmanship fill St. Joseph's Indian School's gym!

The boys inter-city championships filled the rec center all afternoon. Each team had two trophies to give out, one to a St. Joseph’s Indian School student and one to a player from town. Those trophies go to the kids who have the best attitude, play hard and fair and help their teammates. There was also a hard-fought tournament for bragging rights, but all in a spirit of fun and good sportsmanship.

Tonight, our high school academic advisor gathered up the half-dozen students who make up our Knowledge Bowl team. Competition at the Lakota Nations Invitational is this Thursday and Friday, and this was the last chance to practice and review. I dropped in for some moral support and will go with the crew to Rapid City, South Dakota to cheer them on. Read how the St. Joseph’s Indian School team did last year!


Christmas plans

During break time, Carla in the Development Office organized a fun social – sharing popcorn and a good book we’ve recently enjoyed. We were invited to bring along the book to pass along to others after we’d wet their appetite with a preview. I haven’t done a book report nearly as recently as most of our Native American youth, but I do enjoy reading. While we only had a few reports this first time around, it was a worthy effort and enlightening to hear about the different worlds of imagination and fact that others enjoy.

An expectant mother called asking if we had any more “baby bundles”. I wasn’t sure exactly what that was, so I checked with Mary Jane. Since she works with our alumni, she is also a good resource to help out people with such needs. One church from out-of-state has been sending us some nice handmade afghans, and this woman’s cousin received one of those, with some Pampers and baby food wrapped inside. We actually do have a few more to give out, so maybe we’ve started a trend.

I visited Pinger Home (6th-8th grade girls) for supper. I asked the girls at my table if they had any Christmas plans. One 6th grader told me she was excited because her mom was coming home.

“Where has she been?”

I wondered if she was away for work or school.  The answer that came back was sobering.

“In prison.”

That is a sad reality for a good number of our students. I can only hope what led her to that point won’t be repeated and she can once again be supportive of her children.

On my way across campus, I noticed a larger number of cars at the Rec Center than normal, and I checked in on the activity.  The high school girls had a basketball game at the Armory in town, and the high school boys needed a place to practice. We have about 8 of our students on the teams, and the coach brought the crew over here to use our gym. I watched the coach at work for a while. He took his time and while teaching the offensive set, helped the players to think and learn, which is what good coaches do. Someone who rants and raves is more likely to make players afraid of making mistakes instead of constantly getting better by thinking through what they’ve done, and learning from mistakes.


Personal renditions

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. When Fr. Guy came to the chapel for morning prayer, he brought us little red stockings filled with a few holiday treats. St. Nicholas is a nice reminder of being generous to others, and doing so in a fun and festive way. The St. Nicholas story I remember from childhood, was how he secretly put gold coins on a man’s doorstep so his three daughters, who couldn’t afford the dowry, could get married.

When I stopped by the Native American Studies Class, the Lakota (Sioux) youth were drawing their tribal flags. There are nine Sioux tribes in the state of South Dakota and this particular class had students from Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux tribes. I learned something about the symbolism and colors in each flag as the students meticulously worked on their personal renditions.

Mary Jane, our Alumni Director , was getting a care package ready to send out to Lolita, an alumni in the Navy stationed in Japan. I was glad to drop off a letter of encouragement and wish her well.

The Braves had a great basketball season!
The Braves had a great basketball season!

Some of our students have emotional struggles that may lead to acting out in self harmful ways. I stopped by one of the counselor’s offices and saw a student just back from a week long in patient treatment placement. Lots of times, I see our students coping so well, but I’m reminded that at times we have to go the extra mile to meet their needs. They did well with the program and are glad to be back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus again.

Our 5th grade girls basketball team was back in action for their last home game of the year. After Christmas break, it will be the boys turn to play other schools and our girls will shift to the inter-city league, which is more like intramurals. Their weeks of practice paid of nicely and they played well as a team to hold on for a four point victory. After the game, the kids and coaches enjoyed a pizza party in the game room to celebrate the end of their season.