Haskell Indian Nations University: A field of dreams

By Jay Daniels, Round House Talk

Haskell Indian Nations University (“Haskell”) is the premiere tribal university in the United States offering quality education to Native American students. Haskell’s student population averages about 1000 per semester, and all students are members of federally recognized tribes. Haskell’s faculty and staff is predominantly native. Haskell offers Associate and Bachelors degrees. Haskell’s historic campus is centrally located in Lawrence, KS in what is known as Kaw Valley.

Today, after more than 130 years of existence, Haskell is experiencing extreme funding shortfalls and reducing the necessary funding to provide educational as well as student extracurricular activities, such as athletics, educational field trips and generally preparing students for life after degrees are obtained.

Summary of Haskell’s Sports History:

In 1884 Haskell initially opened its doors to American Indian students as Haskell Industrial Training Institute.  Today Haskell has emerged from those early years as a vocational/commercial training institute that initially offered a 5th grade curriculum, followed by an 8th grade curriculum, and by 1921 a full-scale 12th grade high school curriculum and maintained until 1965. In 1970 Haskell became an accredited junior college and by 1994 Haskell attained university status when it began offering both associate and baccalaureate degrees. During the existence of Haskell, there have been consistent academic/training alterations and changes to the methods and emphasis of training and teaching at Haskell (manual training courses, agricultural training, commercial courses, normal educational development, grade school/primary school education, high school development, domestic arts, domestic sciences, junior college, and finally university status). But the one constant has been athletics and its role as a viable part of Haskell’s development.

Haskell’s first organized sport against competitive opponents was football which began in 1896 and from 1919 to 1930 Haskell developed one of the most successful athletic programs in the school’s history recording a won/loss record of 94-31-6[JD1] . Haskell competed collegiately during this time and played some of the most formidable teams during that period of time including Kansas University, Oklahoma University, Notre Dame, Oklahoma A & M University, Tulsa, Nebraska, Boston College, Minnesota, and Bucknell.

Most nationally notable football game

The Hominy Indians were an all American Indian professional football team, meaning The Real Americans, located in Hominy, Oklahoma. The financiers were from Hominy, the Osage Tribe, and other tribes – the players were from all over. On December 26, 1927, they defeated the National Football League New York Giants who were titled world champions three weeks prior to the game with the Hominy Indians. Hominy was short handed of players and asked Haskell if they had any players willing to play with Hominy. Several eagerly accepted and were an integral part in helping Hominy in beating the NFL Giants 13-6.

Notable Haskell Native American Athletes

John Levi, an Arapaho tribal member is noted as the greatest runner back during the era, from 1921 to 1924 (He was named first team All-American in 1923),

Tommy Anderson, a Muscogee Creek stood as the premier running back in 1919, but the greatest team is believed to be the 1926 undefeated team that went 12-0-1 and was the first team to play in the newly built 10,500 seat stadium built with the exclusive donations of American Indian people. The largest contributors, were Osage and Quapaw tribal members who at that time were beneficiaries of oil and other mining resources.

The 1926 team had the benefit of what may have been the greatest all-around backfield in Haskell’s history including Elijah Smith who was the fastest of the running backs; George Levi performed as both an inside and outside runner; Mayes McClain served as the fullback and the team’s leading scorer (scoring a record 253 points, a scoring record that stood for 80 years); and Egbert Ward, ran the quarterback position.

In addition to the potent running and passing utilized by the 1926 team the team also had two of the best linemen in the nation. Tiny Roebuck and Tom Stidham (Mayes McClain would lead the nation in scoring in 1926 and his record of 253 points scored in a season was a record that stood for nearly 80 years. Tom Stidham would eventually coach collegiately at various universities including football at the University of Oklahoma.  The 1926 team ended the season considered among the top collegiate programs in America.

In the 1929 and 1930 seasons, Haskell maintained a record of 8-2-0 and 10-1-0.  The only loss in 1930 was to the University of Kansas, the following year, 1931, Haskell defeated Kansas in their re-match.

Rabbit Weller, a Caddo from Oklahoma who would go on from Haskell to play football professionally.

Buster Charles, an Oneida from Wisconsin led Haskell during this period of time and would eventually compete in the 1932 Olympics in the decathlon, a series of 10 events that commonly is said to determine the best all-around athlete in the world.  Buster Charles finished 4th, just short of a medal.

Inadequate funding has always been an unresolved issue

In 1933 Haskell moved away from its collegiate schedule and returned exclusively to high school competition by 1938. Through the Great Depression of the 1930s Haskell’s budget was cut by one-third (1/3), and it struggled financially for a period of nearly fifteen (15) years, but was able to maintain both its educational standards and athletic programs for the hundreds of students who continued to enroll during the same period of time.

Tony Coffin (“Coffin”) began his coaching career at Haskell in 1938 when as an enrolled student at Kansas University he played baseball collegiately and was allowed room and board at Haskell.  In order to pay for his Haskell room and board, Coffin was given the responsibility to coach Haskell baseball, boxing, and was utilized as an assistant in football.  When the United States entered World War II on December 07, 1941, Coffin volunteered for military service in early 1942. At the conclusion of the War in 1945 he returned to Haskell to re-start his coaching career. In 1948 he took the reins as head coach in football, basketball, and track and field and by 1951 had Haskell athletics (at the high school level) back on the map, the football program between the years 1951 to 1961 compiled a record of 58-38-5.  The basketball teams went to state championships twice (1953 and 1956), a remarkable feat considering the male high school enrollment never exceeded 200.

The track and cross-country teams never lost a conference championship for twelve consecutive years.  Some of the outstanding athletes at the time included:

Ed Postoak (1951 to 1954) was All- State in football and a 4 year starter on the basketball team;

John Edwards (1952 to 1955) was an All-State halfback and the school’s 440 record holder;

Other team members were:

James and Elliott Ryal (1952 to 1956);

Willie Sevier 1954-56, state finalist in basketball;

Ken Bailey 1956-1959;

Dave Hearne 1957-60;

Ken Taylor 1958-1961;

Billy Mills 1954-1957, (future 1964 Olympics 10,000 meters gold medal winner;

Gary Sarty (100 yard record-holder) 1957-1960;

Danny Little-Axe 1958-1961;

Gerald Tuckwin (1957-1960);

Darrell Farris, High School All-American (1959-1962); and

Phil Homeratha (1958-1961).

Other team members included the following:

James and Elliott Ryal (1952 to 1956);

Willie Sevier 1954-56, state finalist in basketball;

Ken Bailey 1956-1959;

Dave Hearne 1957-60;

Ken Taylor 1958-1961;

Billy Mills 1954-1957, (future 1964 Olympics 10,000 meters gold medal winner;

Gary Sarty (100 yard record-holder) 1957-1960;

Danny Little-Axe 1958-1961;

Gerald Tuckwin (1957-1960);

Darrell Farris, High School All-American (1959-1962); and

Phil Homeratha (1958-1961).

In 1970 Haskell became an accredited junior college and through 1977 the school was able to maintain winning records with Cecil Harry being named the schools only juco All-American in 1971.

Since 1920 Haskell has had three individuals who have attended Haskell and where each received their initial training, and competed in the Olympics:

Emil Patasani (Zuni) a 1920 5,000 meter runner;

Buster Charles (Oneida), a 1932 decathlete; and

Billy Mills (Sioux), 1964, an Olympic Champion in the 10,000 meter run.

Over the years Haskell has had five coaches who were named to the American Indian Hall of Fame for either, coaching and/or athletic achievement:

Lone Star Dietz, served as the head coach 1929 to 1932;

Gus Welch, 1933 to 1934;

John Levi, 1935;

Tony Coffin, 1947 to 1966; and

Jerry Tuckwin, 1970 to 1994.

It is believed Phil Homeratha, long-time coach at Haskell, 1970 to 2012, the only Haskell coach to ever take three different Haskell teams to national basketball tournaments in three different decades, 1987, 1999, and 2008 will one day be in the National Indian Hall of Fame for his coaching achievements at Haskell.

This represents a summary highlighting some of the most significant moments in Haskell athletic history and provides only a brief lesson as to the tradition of Haskell athletics that has emerged over the years.

Unless those of us who appreciate the opportunity and life lessons Haskell has given us, their athletic program could possibly be either scaled down or termination of their athletic programs. So many Native American lives have been jumpstarted to successful careers and contributions to Indian Country because of the education received at Haskell. So many memories, experiences, and life lessons were provided ay Haskell. It’s hard to imagine a world without Haskell, a place where Native Americans who normally wouldn’t obtain an education beyond the limits of their reservations or urban difficulties. These students, past and present, felt more comfortable being around other Native Americans from all over the country.  Different tribes, cultures and languages. But we all came from a world that didn’t and somewhat still hasn’t accepted us entirely or respected our culture and spirituality. Would you like to ensure that this traditional learning experience is there for your children, grandchildren and others in the future generations? Do what you can to keep the school open. So many struggling and goal oriented Native Americans who may not have somewhere else to go are depending on Haskell be there for their pursuit of excellence.

If any individual or tribe is concerned and would like to assist the Haskell Athletic Program, you can contact the Haskell Indian Nations University Athletic Department at 155 Indian Ave., Lawrence, KS 66046, Tel. (785) 749-8459.

Gold medal propels Billy Mills’ cause

Only 10,000M Olympic champ in U.S. history still helping fellow Native Americans

His dark early days could not overshadow the joy of Billy Mills' Olympic triumph in 1964. (AP Photo)
His dark early days could not overshadow the joy of Billy Mills’ Olympic triumph in 1964. (AP Photo)

By Brianne Mirecki, ESPN.com

When Billy Mills raced to one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history — winning the 10,000-meter gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games — a lot of people wanted to congratulate him.

Mills received a telegram from his best friend, Leroy Chief, and his cousin, Harry Eagle Bull. A note from John Glenn challenged Billy, a fellow Marine, to a race – the competitive Glenn said he’d ride his motorcycle, and if he didn’t win, they’d have to race again with Glenn on his rocket ship.

But perhaps the most unique congratulation originated over 5,700 miles away from the athlete’s village in Tokyo and took a bit longer than a telegram to reach Mills.

Back on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where Mills had grown up, just before the race he wasn’t supposed to win, the community filled a sacred pipe with tobacco and prayed to the four directions, to mother earth and to the creator, that Billy would represent himself with dignity, and in so doing represent his people — the people of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe and the United States — with dignity.

When Mills returned home from Japan, the tribe held a powwow in his honor and bestowed upon him his Lakota name: Tamakoca Tekihila, which translates to “Loves His Country”.

It was a name Mills would live up to not just on Oct. 14, 1964, when he won the only 10,000-meter Olympic gold in U.S history, but every day since that epic race.

The Path To The Medal

The story of Mills’ journey to the Olympics reads like a Dickens novel. Born to Grace and Sidney Mills on June 30, 1938, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Billy Mills joined a family that would soon number eight children. His parents divorced when he was young, but he was close with both and devastated by the death of his mother when he was 8, and especially by the loss of his father four years later.

One of Mills’ strongest memories of his father is from a fishing trip the two took shortly after his mother’s death.

“My dad looked at me and told me, ‘Son, you have broken wings.’ He said I had to look beyond the hurt, hate, jealousy, self-pity. All of those emotions destroy you. He said, ‘Look deeper son. Way down deep is where the dreams live. Find your dream, son. It’s the pursuit of a dream that’ll

Billy Mills jostled with Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi on the way to the gold medal. (AP Photo)
Billy Mills jostled with Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi on the way to the gold medal. (AP Photo)

heal a broken soul.'”

Mills’ environment did not lend itself to the fulfillment of dreams. Pine Ridge is consistently one of the poorest communities in the United States, and suffers from a crippling mix of complicating issues: alcohol abuse, unemployment, youth suicide and others.

Besides these immediate barriers, the native community was under legal and psychological attack from the federal government — Mills’ date of birth is closer to the massacre at Wounded Knee than it is to today, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act wasn’t passed until 1978 — and people struggled to maintain their identity in the face of a government mandate to assimilate. He says he grew up with the knowledge that his people had experienced “our own genocide.”

Mills’ father was Oglala Lakota, but his mother was white, which means that their child is iyeska, a Lakota term which he translates as “mixed blood”. At times Mills felt held at arms length by the most traditional and full-blooded native people. Achievement, measured by accolades like academic and athletic success, sometimes seemed to come at the expense of community.

He did well enough academically to gain admission to the Haskell Indian School (now the Haskell Indian Nations University), but the school was far from his family, in Kansas, and choosing to leave the reservation brought additional scrutiny and wariness from the native people who stayed.

Mills says that those Oglala who chose to go to the school were “rejected twofold. Those traditionalists … couldn’t understand why we were trying to engage in the society that had basically created the genocide of us. And society basically rejected us. The theme of the day was the melting pot. But the melting pot, if you look at it from the Native American perspective, was to take the Indian-ness out of me.”

Running became Mills’ escape from his personal struggles. No matter what was going on in his life, when he ran, he found tranquility. At Haskell, Mills’ running prowess caught the attention of college coaches, and he entered a world even more removed from his native community when he enrolled at the University of Kansas. he seemed to be doing well, but internally he was struggling.

“Racism in America was breaking me,” he says. “Nobody knew, but it was breaking me.”

Mills says he came frighteningly close to committing suicide, “close enough to scare me to this day.” But in his darkest moment, he heard a voice.

“I just heard energy: ‘Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.’ The fourth and last time, soothing, powerful, gentle loving, very direct, ‘Don’t.’ And to me it was my dad’s voice. I got off my chair and I wrote down a dream to heal a broken soul. I wrote ‘Gold medal, 10,000 meter run.'”

Healing A Broken Soul

The journey toward his dream is an epic tale that has already been the subject of a feature film, “Running Brave.”

He found some success in college, becoming a three-time All-American in cross country, but his career really took off when he joined the Marines and married his college sweetheart, Patricia. The Marines offered stability in the form of a special training camp for Olympic hopefuls, medical expertise that identified and helped manage the Type II diabetes that had caused Billy to unexpectedly crash in previous races, and a strong mentor in the form of coach and Olympic gold medalist Tommy Thompson Sr.

Coach Thompson’s belief in Mills’ dream was a key component of his success, but even more important was the confidence and support he drew from Patricia, who put her own goal of a career in art on hold in order to support his training.

In a time when Olympic athletes were still held to the strictest definition of amateurism, Patricia was his one-woman support crew, providing meals and snacks to help manage his diabetes, caring for their newborn daughter, and providing emotional support when almost no one else believed in Mills’ dream.

In Tokyo, Mills had memorized where Patricia would be sitting before the race — 95 yards from the finish, 32 seats up. In visualizing the race, he

Even after crossing the finish line, Billy Mills was unsure he'd actually won the race. (AP Photo)
Even after crossing the finish line, Billy Mills was unsure he’d actually won the race. (AP Photo)

designated it as the point where he would start his all-out sprint. Despite going up against athletes such as Australian Ron Clarke — the reigning world record holder who had run nearly a minute faster than Mills’ personal best — Mills’ belief in himself never wavered. His goal was to win.

When the gun fired on race day, Mills hung with the leaders, despite a pace for the 10,000-meter race that was nearly as fast as his best for 5,000 meters. On the final lap, he found himself one of just three men in contention for the win, sitting on Clarke’s shoulder with Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia just behind him.

The bell lap played out like an obstacle course as the leaders weaved around nearly a dozen lapped runners, and Billy was pushed off balance twice in the jostling for position. Stumbling into lane 2 in the aggressive fray, Billy seemed to fade out of contention on the backstretch when Gammoudi surged. Mills approached Patricia’s seat about eight yards behind the leaders.

Coming off the curve of the straightaway, just under his wife’s position, a lapped runner began to float wide, and Mills saw daylight: space to sprint for victory. He pumped his arms, lifted his knees, and gave it all he had. Glancing left at a lapped runner, Mills thought he saw an eagle on the competitor’s singlet. He remembered his father’s words: “The pursuit of a dream will heal your broken wings.”

He flew with the wings of an eagle to the finish line, breaking the tape first.

The Giveaway

Despite dreaming about the victory for years, Mills could hardly believe his dream had come true. When an official came up to him immediately after the race and asked, “Who are you?” Mills momentarily panicked, fearing he had somehow stopped a lap early. In footage from the race, you can see him holding up one finger, asking a question.

The Japanese official confirms with a single raised finger of his own: first place, Olympic champion. Mills laughs, still seemingly disbelieving, and waves to the crowd.

What does one do then as a newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist? Mills knew generally what he wanted to do after the Olympics.

In the Lakota tradition, someone who has experienced success holds a “giveaway,” a ceremony that recognizes those who have supported them on their journey and gives back. But Mills wasn’t sure how to hold his giveaway. The tribe had been his entire existence, and he was overwhelmed by the number of people he wanted to recognize and share his victory with.

Again, Mills turned to Patricia. Her suggestion? “Take the inspiration that was given to you and pass it on to another generation.”

Since the medal ceremony in Tokyo, the rest of his life has been a choreographed giveaway. The process began in 1983, when Mills worked to create “Running Brave,” which chronicles his Olympic journey. He still meets strangers around the world who tell him they were inspired by his movie.

The giveaway started working in earnest, though, when Mills met Gene Krizek, a World War II veteran with extensive connections in Washington who had just started his Christian Relief Services charity. Concerned about the plight of Native Americans, Gene enlisted Billy’s help as a spokesperson for a new charity dedicated to bringing “resources and a sense of hope” to American Indian communities.

In honor of Mills’ achievements, the two named the charity Running Strong for American Indian Youth (http://indianyouth.org/). The charity serves the community through activities such as organic gardening initiatives, helping to weatherproof homes, funding projects to document and preserve native culture and language, and, of course, fundraising through road races.

Since 1991, Running Strong has donated more than $41 million in programs and services that benefit American Indian youth and native communities across the country. Mills’ official role with Running Strong is to serve as national spokesperson, which he does in addition to his day job as a professional speaker.

Mills is on the road for upwards of 300 days a year, speaking to diverse groups at museums, universities and in the military, his broad perspective

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesBilly Mills received the 2012 Presidential Citizens medal for his work with American Indian youth.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Billy Mills received the 2012 Presidential Citizens medal for his work with American Indian youth.

providing inspiration with which just about anyone can identify. Most of his speeches emphasize “global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity.” Billy speaks with deliberation and passion, his calm, soothing voice belying the urgency of his message.

He has a teacher’s ability to explain the wider historical context of an event or problem, and a belief in people’s ability to work together that is so strong as to be spiritual. The combined effect is to produce a broad understanding of our interconnected problems and a confidence that good people will be able to fix them. It is this spirit that inspires his latest endeavor.

Mills wanted to do something special in October in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his gold medal run. Of all the problems facing the youth of Pine Ridge and other Native American communities, he is most concerned about “the poverty of dreams”: the grind of financial poverty that can rob American Indian youth of the ability to imagine a better future and chase after their goals.

As his father said all those years ago, “it is the pursuit of a dream that will heal a broken soul.” So, the Dreamstarter project (http://indianyouth.org/Dreamstarter), launching this year, encourages young people to imagine a way to improve their community and then provides logistical and economic support for that dream.

For each of the next five years, 10 young dreamers will be selected to have their vision come true. The applicants must find a mentor organization to work with in implementing their ideas, and will participate in a leadership skills-building conference in Washington, D.C., before receiving $10,000 from Running Strong for American Indian Youth to help make their dreams a reality.

The program is notable for the agency that it provides to the grant recipients. Besides general themes for each year (this year’s theme is wellness, next year’s is the arts) and the stipulation that projects must be aimed at communities composed primarily of native people, there are few restrictions on what the dreams can entail. I

Instead of throwing money at a problem, the Dreamstarter program empowers young people to identify a problem in their communities and come up with a solution. Essentially, Mills is creating leadership.

“Loves His Country,” the name given to Mills by his tribe after his race, has a dual meaning, because as a mixed-blood iyeska, Billy has two countries and loves them both.

His love for his Lakota Sioux tribe has led him on his 50-year quest to give back to the community and improve the lives of native people in America. And his love for the United States, evidenced by his service to the federal government as a Marine and his representation of the United States as an Olympian, means he never forgets the power and responsibility that the U.S. government has as it relates to Native Americans.

As Mills says, “our young people … are going to be our warriors in the battles of the 21st century. Our battles will no longer be fought out on the plains of the Dakotas. The battles are going to be fought … with our intellect, and they’re going to be fought in the court systems of America.

“Not against the United States of America, but by educating our congressional people [on Native American treaty rights] … and fighting for the implementation of those treaty rights. [And that will] help empower Native American young people to help make America a more beautiful place.”

Through the Dreamstarter project, Mills is moving forward the process of empowerment.

This past year, while visiting a tribe in North Dakota, Mills was given a second Indian name, one that translates as, “He Whose Footsteps We Can

AP Photo/David ZalubowskiGiving back to Native American people is a fulfilling, ongoing process for Billy Mills.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Giving back to Native American people is a fulfilling, ongoing process for Billy Mills.

Hear, But We Cannot See Him.” Like his original Indian name, this one has two meanings.

The first references the race where Mills dreamed of victory — 50 years ago, Billy Mills’ footsteps, so fast you could barely see him, ignited a nation, so fast you could barely see him. The second is that Mills’ footsteps, the impression he leaves behind, will last long after his life is over.

What began as a journey to heal a broken soul by chasing an Olympic dream has become a lasting legacy that enables others to join the pursuit of dreams and goals.