Site Search
home | naspe forum | submit | pe store | calendar | contact   

Shooting for the Stars with the Schimmel Sisters

written by Heather Van Mullem, PhD, Lewis-Clark State College

In recent years, women of ethnic minority status have made huge strides in being recognized for their athletic endeavors. The speed and power of sprinter Wilma Rudolph and the high-flying sharp shooting of Cheryl Miller, paved the way for the dominating play of the William's sisters, the acrobatic elegance of Gabby Douglas, and the powerful swing of Michelle Wie. However, as promising as these changes may be, one minority group in particular seems to have fallen by the wayside. While the media has increased its coverage of the successes of female athletes of ethnic minority status, Native American female athletes have consistently been ignored (King, 2005). Battling racism, sexism, and classism, they "have been silenced by being suppressed, excluded, and misrepresented at every level of social interaction and have been placed at the margins by the dominant culture in society and sport" (Smith, 1992, p. 229).

Although mainstream society is seldom exposed to the performance of Native Americans in sports, sports have played an important role in the evolution of Native American culture, influencing many phases of their lives (Oxendine, 1988). Basketball appears to have become one of the most popular sports (Cheska, 1984) and is interwoven into the fabric of Native American culture. Described as an "all-consuming passion" by some (NPR, 2003) and as a "drug" by others (Smith, 1991), the sound of a basketball bouncing has been likened to the beating of a warrior's drum (Donahue, 1997). For years, Native American basketball tournaments have been immensely popular, allowing Native Americans to compete in the sport many years after their high school or college eligibility is over. In a fictional story, the author Welch questioned who the true inventor of basketball really was, implying that the game was modeled after the traditional Indian game of hoop and pole (Donahue, 1997).

Today, Native American athletes continue to play and succeed in sports although their efforts are seldom recognized. Unfortunately, "athletic skills developed on American Indian land are often contained within its boundaries" (Selena, 2001, p. 1). What little media coverage Native American female athletes have received, has tended to focus on failures rather than highlight successes. With the absence of their stories and thus their voice, the media has perpetuated the belief that if Native American female athletes do exist, they must struggle to be successful. Unfortunately, this practice of primarily recognizing the negative stories, or providing no stories at all, has served to reinforce incorrect stereotypes that Native American female student-athletes are not or cannot be successful in mainstream sports (King, 2005).

Recently however, a shift in media presence and coverage of Native American female athletes occurred as the Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude, exploded onto the national sports scene. Members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, Shoni and Jude played for the Louisville Cardinal Women’s Basketball team, which contended for the 2013 NCAA Division-I National Basketball Championship (Vopel, 2013, April 2).

The Schimmel sisters have been celebrated for their exciting, fun, free-wheeling style of play, tabbed as "rez ball" (Longman, 2013, April 6). This style of play, the way it has contributed to the team's success, and their ethnicity has captivated women's basketball fans everywhere. One of their teammates shared,

We're witnessing something that hasn’t been done in women’s basketball...we go anywhere in the country, and we've got more fans in red than the other team has on their floor. I think it goes to show Shoni and Jude's character. They're special people, and what they're doing for the whole Native American culture is very special. And they're kind of showing them what can be done, just if you jump out on a leap of faith. That's what Shoni and Jude did." (Hays, 2014)

Increasingly the mainstream media is recognizing the Schimmel sisters' talents and successes. As Hays (2014) documents, their fan base is extensive and diverse. Crowds gather to watch them play. A substantial proportion of their fans are members of different Native American tribes who travel to support their efforts on the hardwood. Hays (2014) argues, "[Shoni] Schimmel's greatest social impact comes in representing Native Americans too rarely seen on such sporting stages..."

If you haven't seen the Schimmels in action, consider tuning in to the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. These young women can play and display a level of talent and athleticism at the highest level of competitive collegiate women's basketball. In addition to playing an exciting, up-tempo brand of basketball, they provide a glimpse into the talent and athleticism of Native American athletes too often ignored by mainstream media.


Biography: Heather Van Mullem is an Associate Professor in the Health & Kinesiology Program at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID. A former college basketball player and coach, she received her Ph.D from the University of Kansas in Sports Studies with an emphasis in Sport Psychology and Sport Sociology. In addition, she completed a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies.

(back to pelinks4u homepage)

pelinks4u sponsors











contact us
Phone: 509-963-2384
Fax 509-963-1989  
pelinks4u is a non-profit program of Central Washington University dedicated to promoting active and healthy lifestyles
Copyright © 1999-2014 | pelinks4u   All Rights Reserved