TOCC’s Jegos engage the communityMay 15th, 2012 | By mlee | Category: 23-4: Investing in Education, Empowering Tribal Communities, Tribal College News
Matt Vargas, head coach for the new Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC, Sells, AZ) men’s basketball team, has a business card sporting the team’s one-word motto: “Relentless.” That is the perfect word to describe this determined team.
The Jegos men’s basketball team consists of 20 players, who range in age from upper teens to upper 30s and come from a variety of locations and backgrounds. Several of the players are fathers, and some have already coached youth or high school teams. All of them are following the dream of playing college basketball.
The team practices weekday mornings from 6:30-8:30 a.m. in a high school gymnasium located 10 miles from TOCC and 60 miles from Tucson, where all of the coaches and half of the players live. Like tribal college students everywhere, the basketball players juggle studies, family, and work.
Liberal Arts major Drew Harris appreciates the opportunity to play basketball and study on the Tohono O’odham Nation: “I’m learning more about our people,” he says, adding that he recently participated with other TOCC students in putting on a play for Indian Oasis Elementary School pupils and encouraging them to stay in school. Jesmon Walker, who plays both guard and forward, is taking Tohono O’odham Language, Tohono O’odham History and Culture, reading, and mathematics classes. Sohaib Fellah has coached at the high school level and is hoping to one day coach college basketball. He is grateful to TOCC for the opportunity to earn a certificate or associate’s degree that will transfer to one of Arizona’s state universities.
After games, players spread out through the bleachers and shake hands with audience members. They have participated in parades, helped with the Tohono O’odham Nation Rodeo and Fair, and have served food to walkers and runners completing a pilgrimage at a small village on the Nation. Vargas says that this event in the fall—which involves serving elders and pilgrims of all ages—brought the group together. An observer walking through the student lounge at TOCC will see the team’s camaraderie or “definite brotherhood,” as player Anthony Chavez says.
According to Vargas, many people are responsible for helping create the sports program. Assistant Coaches Michael Steward and Tim Larsen both left established positions to coach the team. The TOCC Board of Trustees supported the program, and an anonymous donor provided seed money. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s Education Department and Recreation Division have both contributed time and funds, while the Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified School District has provided a venue and contacts.
In Fall 2012, TOCC plans to launch a Jegos women’s basketball team. Stay tuned—the team hopes to meet many readers of Tribal College Journal, both men and women, at future Battles of the Nations and other basketball tournaments.