Shoni and Jude Schimmel, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla in Eastern Oregon and both players on the NCAA Louisville Cardinals, are known as the first Native Americans to play in an NCAA women’s basketball division I championship game.
Despite the Cardinals’ devastating loss to Connecticut in the 2013 NCAA championship, the Schimmel sisters walked away with more support than they expected from all across Native America. Recognizing all of their hard work and dedication, the sisters were honored at the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) Championship game on Sunday, July 21 at the U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.
They were presented the Phil Homeratha Leadership Award, one of the most prestigious awards given to young athletes.
NABI has presented the Phil Homeratha Leadership Award for the past nine years to individuals who are making a difference in the lives of Native youth or have accomplished a great feat in the advancement of Native American athletes. The award is named after the late Phil Homeratha, who was the women’s basketball coach at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Jude, 19, a sophomore and point guard for the Lady Cardinals, was present at the NABI Championship game. Along with her mother, Cecilee “Ceci” Moses and father, Rick Schimmel, she enjoyed watching the games that took place. Fans constantly asked Jude to pose for pictures, and she politely answered every single person with a smile and willingness to oblige.
Regarding herself and her sister, Jude said, “We feel like we’re just normal people. Everyone always asks, ‘How do you handle the hype?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t get caught up in it, I don’t want to.’ But like I said, I’m still really happy and proud of who I am and how much support my sister and I have [from all of Native America].”
In April, Jude received the prestigious Elite 89 award from the NCAA for her 3.73 GPA, the highest cumulative grade point average of all those playing in the 2013 NCAA women’s championship game. This award recognizes that Jude was able to “reach the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among her peers.”
When asked how she balances life, basketball, family and school, Jude answered, “Really it’s just finding a few hours out of the day where you can sit down [and] do your homework. You’ll get it done if you really want to. If you really want to graduate, if you really want to play basketball for your university or for your high school, you just have to be self-disciplined. Even if it’s just barely getting it done, at least you’re getting it. You just have to balance, just figure out what you really want and just go with it.”
Of course Jude didn’t do it alone, she had her older sister Shoni to share all of her success with. Shoni, 21, a senior and point guard for the Lady Cardinals, was not present during the NABI tournament, as she was out of the country. A video was shown instead. Shoni’s message was, “I’m actually in Russia playing with the USA Basketball team. It is a privilege to receive an award, because I get to share it with my sister (Hi Jude). I take great pride in being Native American and I understand that being a leader requires responsibility and sacrifice. Now go out there and have some fun, and again, thank you for this award. And I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
Off the Rez, a documentary produced by Hock Films and Milojo Productions, is based on the Schimmel family, who left the reservation in hopes of providing a better life for their eight children. Of the children, Shoni and Jude have emerged as two of the best high school basketball players in the country.
In the documentary, Shoni is interviewed by writer/director Jonathan Hock. He asks her how she is keeping her Native culture and traditions alive. Shoni said, “[Remember] where you come from. [When] some people get famous, they just let that get to them [and] let [it] get to their head. They lose track of [where they come from]. Our traditions are very important, and I feel like we need to work to keep it alive, any way that we can, regardless of how little it might be.”
Shoni also stated, “Being who you are and knowing who you are, that’s what it’s all about. Knowing where you come from. You have to work harder than everyone else [because you’re Native American]. You kind of just have to prove a point. I don’t want to be like the other Native Americans that could’ve made it, but didn’t. So I just kind of have to prove a point.”
Shoni and Jude Schimmel, talented basketball players and scholars, are considered role models for all youth across Native America. The sisters have kept alive their culture, traditions and pride in being Native American. Currently, their “Cinderella story” is known all across the country.
When asked what her favorite quote was, Jude answered with a quote by Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Shoni said, “You can take the girl off the Rez, but you can’t take the Rez out of the girl!”