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An all-native tournament has allowed smaller South Dakota and Nebraska schools to highlight their skills.

Jonathan Kelley

For 26 years, the Dakota Oyate Challenge, an all-native basketball tournament, has allowed native schools from South Dakota and Nebraska to highlight their skills. For the players in the DOC, taking part means carrying on the legacy left by many great teams before them.

Chairman of the Dakota Oyate Challenge, Silas Blaine, is one of the founders of the DOC.

“We organized this tournament because everybody wanted to be a part of the Lakota Nation Invitational, but LNI was for Class A schools,” he said. “We produced the Dakota Oyate Challenge, allowing smaller schools to play in a similar tournament.”

Benicio Zephier, a senior guard for the Marty Indian School, said, “I’ve grown up around basketball my whole life – all of my family has played in this tournament.” This year, Zephier was named DOC’s Mr. Hustle.

Jesse Bien, head boys’ basketball coach for Flandreau Indian School and DOC Treasurer, has participated in the DOC since 2011.

“This is more than a tournament; it is a celebration. You get to visit and laugh with friends and family that you may not have seen for a while,” he said.

Takini School Athletic Director and DOC Board Member Jordan Knife talked about the personal significance of playing the tournament inside the Huron Arena.

“My grandpa won a state title here.”

Knife said the tournament is a fantastic opportunity for native youth to connect off the court with activities like hand games, archery, a midnight dance, and the DOC college career day.

Senior guard Ashytn Kills Small, from Wakpala, explained what it is like to be a competitor in the DOC tournament.

“This is a smaller version of the Lakota Nation Invitational. It is exciting playing against other native hoopers, especially the ones we play throughout the season. Native basketball is entertaining. It involves an elevated level of basketball IQ.”

Silas Blaine, the head boys’ basketball coach at Wakpala, explained the atmosphere.

“The competition of the games, the crowd is getting loud, especially on the semi-final night. It is something that everyone should experience.”

The girls’ championship game featured the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Lady Chiefs and the Lower Brule Lady Sioux. The Lady Chiefs won 45-43. Sophomore guard Jaileigh Harlan described the feeling of winning the championship.

“Feels different leaving here as a champion and not a runner-up. It is unforgettable,” she said.

Lady Chiefs senior guard and girls’ tournament MVP Sylvia Valentino is enjoying the DOC championship feeling.

“Winning the championship and the girls’ tournament MVP feels good.”

For Valentino’s teammate, Kaelynne Wolfe seeing the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation community in the stands cheering them on means everything.

“It makes me and my teammates feel good knowing many of our relatives traveled far to watch us play. We make sure we put on a show for them, defensively and offensively. It’s a better game when our fans get us excited.”

Valentino and the Lady Chiefs hope the DOC championship victory will translate into a Nebraska state title during the upcoming playoffs.

On the boys’ side, Lower Brule defeated Crazy Horse in the championship game 70-49. Senior guard Brian LaRoche Jr. is averaging 26.6 pts per game this season for Lower Brule. Brian received awards for most 3-pointers made and tournament most valuable player. He discussed what it would mean to bring a South Dakota Class B state title back to Lower Brule.

“It would mean everything. Our goal is to win a state championship. Last year we were so close, and we came up short, so we want to get that chip off our shoulders by bringing a state title back home.”

Lower Brule is 15-3 on the season.

Tiospaye Topa sophomore guard Kristapher Meeter had the highlight of the final day, as he nailed a 35-foot 3-pointer as time expired to beat Wakpala 60-59.

“Hitting the game-winning shot and not letting my teammates down was the best feeling ever,” Meeter said.

Hawk Bair from Marty Indian School scored a girls’ tournament high of 51 total points and received the girls’ award for most 3-pointers made. Fellow teammate Zoe Waln was named DOC Ms. Hustle.

Malik Longie, a senior guard from Flandreau Indian School, had 51 points in his final game at the DOC and had a boys’ tournament high of 81 total points.

The DOC will move to the Corn Palace in Mitchell in 2024. Blaine said, “we have a great relationship with the city of Huron and the Chamber of Commerce, and we thank them for all their support over the last 26 years; we look forward to continuing the DOC tradition at the Corn Palace next year.”

“I wish there were a few more tournaments like the Dakota Oyate Challenge,” he said and invited the community to join. “Come on out next year and enjoy the environment.”