From June 26 to 28, the 14th annual University of Phoenix Lori Piestewa National Native American Games brought together many Native American communities from across the nation for three days of athletic competition in an Olympics-style atmosphere. Wrestling, basketball, volleyball, baseball, track and field, cross country and softball were among the sports competitions that were staged at various venues within the Fort McDowell, Salt River and Fountain Hills communities.
This is the first year that the wrestling events have been held at the Salt River Community Building, where more than 160 wrestlers and even more supporters showed their love for the sport.
“We had nothing but good reviews and a lot of good feedback for this location,” said Na Humma, head coach of Ba’ag Wrestling Club and Salt River High School wrestling. “People loved that gym and the setup. Right now the Community Building is a perfect venue. Everyone that I talked to was very pleased and hopes that the tournament is held here again next year.” Humma is also wrestling co-commissioner for the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games.
Wrestlers competed in three different styles of wrestling: Greco-Roman, folkstyle and freestyle (see sidebar).
Since 2011, the Ba’ag Wrestling Club, an off-season club based in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, has participated in the National Native American Games. The team started out with only one wrestler and now has 17 wrestlers, six of whom participated in the games this year. Ba’ag means eagle in O’odham, which also links back to Humma’s role as head wrestling coach of the Salt River High School Eagles.
In the off-season club, Humma brings together his wrestlers to help promote the sport in a fun environment. He also ties in a cultural aspect that he learned from his father, Rupert Lopez (Tohono O’odham).
“We would hike the sacred peaks; we talk about the stories; we talk about how wrestling is a training tool and also an entertainment tool back in the olden days. It is a part of our culture. My father taught me to use this sport to help promote the ha-himdag (way of life), culture and the language,” said Humma.
He added, “[Wrestling] is an unusual sport; it’s not something that you see on TV a lot, except once every four years [in the Summer Olympic Games]. I want to help promote it a little more and help people understand it a little more. I also want to promote girls and women wrestling; right now I have four girls who wrestle on the team. I also want to get more people involved with it because it is a difficult sport and the participants sacrifice a lot. I think that’s something that deserves recognition.”
The Ba’ag Wrestling Club placed third in the tournament as a team:
- Adrian Lopez—third place (Greco-Roman), fifth place (Folkstyle), fifth place (Freestyle)
- Curtis Lopez—fourth place (Greco-Roman), second place (Folkstyle), second place (Freestyle)
- Christian Lopez—second place (Greco-Roman), first place (Folkstyle), second place (Freestyle)
- Joseph Rangel—first place (Greco-Roman), second place (Folkstyle), first place (Freestyle)
- Isaac Chiago—first place (Folkstyle), first place (Freestyle)
- Hosteen Smith—first place (Greco-Roman), first place (Folkstyle), first place (Freestyle)
Humma said, “I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve done, because wrestling is an individual sport—you don’t have backup or support, other than outside supporters. It’s an intimidating thing, especially for a young kid, and even [for] older [competitors]. It’s a scary feeling walking out kind of naked in front of everybody, and whatever happens is your fault or your success. The fact that [my wrestlers] even [do] that is always one of my proudest moments.
“Everybody did well. We still placed third as a team, with only six wrestlers. We had some awesome team stats and tied with the O’odham Wrestling Club in the freestyle competition for the most pins, and they outnumber us three to one,” said Humma.
Coach Humma offered the following assessments of the members of his wrestling team:
“I’m proud of the Lopez brothers in particular, because they wanted to come in and work extra, so they came in before the youth practices and came in early. They just drilled technique for a half-hour straight through. This being their third year, they were my most experienced youth wrestlers. I saw a lot of what they worked on during the event. It gives me a lot of hope for what the club can be.”
Adrian Lopez: “Adrian is just a little fireball. His greatest asset is that he has no fear of anything. He was only 4 when he started competing, and he was nervous [before the tournament], but he just went and did it. He didn’t do too well, but he still had fun and walked away with a smile on his face.”
Curtis Lopez: “The double-leg takedown is something that Curtis was working really hard on over the past three weeks. I saw him pull it off exactly the way it was trained; it was just textbook perfect.”
Christian Lopez: “Of the Lopez boys, Christian is probably the most aggressive. He has a great memory for things; he pays attention to what’s being taught, and he’s like the perfect student. He doesn’t get frustrated, he just wants to know what he’s doing wrong and how to fix it.”
Joseph Rangel: “He’s a first-year wrestler. He struggled a lot with junior high wrestling and is [in] the smallest weight class on the junior high team. He came out a double champion at the tournament. It was great to see him develop as a wrestler and a person.”
Isaac Chiago: “Isaac goes to Mountain View High School and brought in his brothers as well. He did really well in the tournament.”
Hosteen Smith: “Hosteen has been training hard for this event, and to see him come in and be one of three triple champions this weekend was really great. To see Hosteen come back and win was probably one of our greatest achievements with the club.”
For more information about Ba’ag Wrestling Club, contact Na Humma at firstname.lastname@example.org.