Student-Athletes Prepare to Wow 8,000 Spectators at Lakota Nation Invitational

posted on December 17, 2013

After a full day of classes, Christi Sioux Bob ‘14 walks into Red Cloud Indian School’s recently expanded Wellness Center and eyes the new weights and training equipment. She has been preparing for the Lakota Nation Invitational, a yearly tournament of the mind and body, and it finally starts this week. The room is bright and clean and the walls are covered with motivational quotes and a list of state champions from years past. She looks up at one that reads, “Never let weakness convince you that you lack strength.” And then she reaches for a weight and starts in on her regimen.

“I’m incredibly excited to head back to LNI this year,” says Christi. “I’m a senior, so this is my last year and I plan to play as hard as I can for a win.”

From the outside, LNI might look like a typical high school tournament, but its history tells a deeper story. In 1977, many non-reservation high schools would not host or play Native American teams. Bryan Brewer, who today serves as the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s president, decided that year to organize the “All-Indian Tournament,” a basketball competition on the Pine Ridge Reservation that would allow Native teams across western South Dakota to showcase their talent.

In just a few years, the event became a tremendous source of pride for Native youth and communities across the region. It moved to Rapid City in 1979 to accommodate rising numbers of participants, families and fans. It was renamed the Lakota Nation Invitational in 1987, and today it engages teams from more than 15 high schools in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. From its small beginnings, LNI has grown into a four-day event that brings together more than 2,500 student-athletes from on and off the reservation to compete in sports from wrestling to archery.

And today, LNI is about more than athletics. LNI also includes contests in art, Lakota language, and knowledge, as well as educational conferences and a business plan competition for aspiring entrepreneurs. In addition, for the first time this year, there will be a TWKO poetry slam aimed at inspiring Native youth to create original narratives about life on and off the reservation.

More than 8,000 spectators are expected to watch this week’s competitions at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. And that support means everything to the student-athletes participating.

“I played at LNI for four years when I was a student at Red Cloud. The team won the tournament my senior year and it was an amazing feeling!” says Christian McGhee ’08, Red Cloud High School’s athletic director and head basketball coach.

Christian says he will never forget racing down the court, evading opposing guards and attempting intricate shots while being cheered on by family and friends. And this year, he is looking forward to watching his own student-athletes experience the same excitement.

View Photos from the 2012 Lakota Nation Invitational

“Students on the reservation don’t get a lot of new things or experiences very often,” says Christian. “I think participating in such a massive tournament represents a real achievement for young Native athletes. The ability to play on a real court in a big city is inspiring.”

For students like Christi, athletics are not just a pastime but also a source of motivation to succeed, both on and off the court. At Red Cloud, she knows that her court time does not come without good grades. In the Jesuit tradition, Red Cloud students and faculty believe that a well-rounded education necessarily includes training both the mind and body—both muscle and intellect.

“They all know that they are students first and athletes second,” says Christian. “We require that they keep up their grades or they can’t play. No exceptions.”

Today on campus, Red Cloud students have the resources to train both mind and body. After a full day of rigorous classes, they can work out in the newly modernized Wellness Center, thanks to generous local and national supporters. Students are developing the strength needed to push for a win at this year’s LNI competition.

“After school the [girls] team often has a study hall while the boys team practices in the gym,” says Christi. “I try to finish up my homework and, recently, I’ve been working on college applications. Then we’ll head to the gym and Wellness Center to work out.”

Christian is thrilled with the Wellness Center’s update, which he thinks is giving his team an edge.

“When I was at Red Cloud just a few years ago, our equipment was incomplete. Having an equipped Wellness Center on campus is a huge improvement and gives the students a positive place to go to prepare themselves for events like LNI,” says Christian.

“I think we have a real shot at taking the championship this year. I can’t wait to see what the competition brings!”

For LIVE updates, scores, video and more — stay tuned to Red Cloud Indian School’s Facebook and Twitter accounts all week!

All Content ©Red Cloud Indian School, 2013
Image above of Christi Sioux Bob at 2012 LNI