Schimmel Family at KFC Yum! Center on Native American Night. Photo by Ryan Coody
Schimmel Sisters Shoni and Jude help pull basketball game attendees into Native American heritage and culture.
By Charlie Perry
LOUISVILLE – A record crowd of 22,163 fans which included Native Americans in the thousands representing 40 states descended on the KFC YUM! Center Monday night as the third ranked Louisville women’s basketball team hosted undefeated Connecticut.
American Indians from 40 states were on hand to support the Schimmel “Sister Act.” Photo by Ryan Coody
Photo by Ryan Coody
Hundreds of Natives waited in anticipation hours before the doors opened at the arena, proudly hoisting homemade signs showing support for the Schimmel sisters. Kendall Wallace of the Dellai, Mississippi, and Nebraska Omaha tribe said, “This is pretty big for my girls, we’re all glad to see natives making it big.” In the sea of red was a group of Muskogee natives from Oklahoma who made the twelve hour journey to Louisville by piling into four cars, braving the weather themselves when their bus driver decided it was too dangerous to drive through the winter snowstorm “Titan.” Debbie Ripge said, “This is very important for Native Americans, we’ve been following the sisters since before their game at Southern Methodist University, they came to speak at our reservation and I cooked breakfast for the parents before that game. Everybody from all over is here today it’s amazing.”
Grass Dancer captivates Louisville Crowd. Photo by Ryan Coody
With Senior Night underway the Cardinals introduced four lady Cardinals who helped lead Louisville to a 111-23 record in four years. Home town point guard Tia Gibbs was first out of the tunnel, followed by Shoni Schimmel who ran out to a standing ovation and a roar heard all the way to Lexington. Three point specialist Bria Smith was next and then rebounding leader Asia Taylor. Looking around the area I gazed upon nothing but smiling faces from those in attendance. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of magic in the air, it seemed that all nations were truly one.
The Cardinals won the tip off and jumped to a 7-0 advantage as Shoni channeled her inner Alan Iverson as she elegantly released a three point shot feet away from the UCONN bench which feel silently through the net as the crowd again rose from their seats and let out a furious roar. UCONN fought back, connecting on six three point buckets in the first half, and out rebounding Louisville 27 to 14, which included 10 offensive boards leaving Louisville reeling. Heading into half time the Connecticut Huskies enjoyed a 43-31 lead.
During intermission many spectators skipped the bathroom breaks and popcorn runs to witness the Native American Red Road Drum Group and Dancers as they made their grand entry. The audience sat spellbound as dozens of Natives from across the country dressed in full regalia gave a personal glimpse into a rich Native American heritage of dance. Many diverse forms of dance were represented in the show including fancy, jingle, hoop, and shawl which captivated a predominately non-native audience as they listened to the thundering songs coming from the drum. For the second time this evening over 20,000 people rose out of their seats and applauded Native American culture.Shoni Schimmel splits the defense as she drives to the basket.
The Cardinals played much better defense in the second half as they held the Huskies to a season low 25 points on 1 of 8 shooting from beyond the arch. Offensive boards were still a problem for Louisville however as UCONN’s superior height led to another nine second chance opportunities. The Cards never abandoned the three point shot in the second half but could only connect on 1 of 5 from downtown which wasn’t quite enough to propel them back into the contest. The Huskies would go on to win the game 68-48.
The Schimmel “Sister Act” Shoni (l) & Jude (r) discuss strategy during the game. Photo by Ryan Coody
As the game ended an emotional Shoni Schimmel grabbed the microphone to make a special announcement, “I just want to thank everyone for coming out, I know you all traveled far and it really means a lot to us.” Shoni ended the game with 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal.
Following the game an autograph session took flight for Cardinals fans. Standard procedure calls for autograph sessions to end after an hour, but due to high demand it was extended until around 1:00 A.M. When asked why the Cardinals decided to stay so late head coach Jeff Walz responded, “If we got fans that are coming from all over that’s our job. We want to give back.
Although this contest has come to a conclusion, the Cardinals look ahead to the American Athletic Conference tournament which will be held Friday March 7, 2014 at the Mohegan Sun Area where they hope to return to their winning ways.
The Seneca Nation was represented. Photo by Ryan Coody
With a strong Native American following behind them and the NCAA tournament right around the corner, many Louisville fans are looking ahead towards “unfinished business” with the Huskies.When asked about the Schimmel sister’s influence on Natives across the nation Walz said, “They were sharing their story all last summer from reservation to reservation. Their helping to change young lives by telling their story wherever they go. They have a huge following.” Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma was asked what he thought of Shoni Schimmel after the game, “I enjoy watching Shoni play. When she’s got it going she’s fun to watch, she makes shots people don’t take. It keeps getting harder and harder to guard her. I kind of like her.” Geno also commented on the Native American presence saying, “I thought it was really cool, I’m glad I got to see it.”
Editor’s Note: This article originally was published in The Indian Leader. Used with permission.