Seahawks legend Michael Bennett brings football camp to Tulalip

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

The Pacific Northwest is Seahawks country. From Blue Fridays to rallying chants of “Sea-Hawks!”, the 12th Man is synonymous with Seahawks fandom. But even for the most devout of fan bases, it’s a rarity for beloved players to make themselves accessible to their adoring fans, let alone those who live on a small reservation an hour outside of Seattle. Amazingly, Super Bowl champion Michael Bennett proved to be the rare exception when he held an inclusive football camp on the Tulalip Reservation.

“It’s important to give tribal people, the original people of Seattle, the opportunity to be with the players they follow and love to watch on Sundays,” said Bennett. “Even though their circumstances are different, I want to help empower them to fight for what they want to fight for while always being the people they want to be.”

Nearly 250 kids between ages 7-18 years old participated in the highly anticipated O.C.E.A.N. sports camp held at the Tulalip Sports Complex on Sunday, June 23. Registration was completely free of charge for any youth of Tulalip and surrounding communities thanks to collaborating partners Rise Above, Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County, Tulalip Tribes, Galanda Broadman and The Bennett Foundation.

“We’ve been using football camps as a way to promote healthy lifestyle choices and overall wellness for close to seven years now,” explained Bennett Foundation cofounder Pele Bennett, Michael’s wife. “The Foundation has been fortunate to host camps in other states and countries. Even though Michael is no longer a Seahawk, we love being able to return to Seattle where we are so welcomed and make an impact to the local communities.”

During his five-year tenure as a Seahawk, Bennett was a defensive stalwart with an uncanny ability to get after the opposing team’s quarterback. Even casual fans remember his celebratory sack dance that happened so frequently it earned him three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl and his team back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Now, he’s using his abilities and larger-than-life personality to tackle a new opponent, childhood obesity.

“When you look at obesity and diabetes in our community, the black and brown communities around the world, it’s rampant,” said Bennett. “Food and nutrition are the biggest barriers to the overall well-being of our peoples. People don’t have Whole Foods everywhere they go. For tribal people, they don’t have access to their traditional foods. It’s important to have a sense of compassion and empathy for what other people are going through, and work together to break down those barriers that divide us.”

Bennett and his wife Pele started The Bennett Foundation with the goal of raising awareness about obesity and providing communities with educational opportunities to learn how to live a healthy and active lifestyle. As one of the longest running programs of The Bennett Foundation, O.C.E.A.N. is an acronym for fighting Obesity through Community, Education, Activity and Nutrition. The objective of the O.C.E.A.N. sports camp is to educate the community on healthy food choices and promote physical fitness as a family.

Every camp is designed specifically for each individual community, and may feature a health expo, a family fitness clinic, or an exciting fitness challenge. For Tulalip, the emphasis was on physical fitness through a variety of football drills and skill building exercises that were enjoyed by all youth participants.

Among the hundreds of eager kids who made it out on the picture-perfect summer day in Tulalip were families journeying from as far south as Olympia and as north as Nooksack. Of course, many local parents and guardians took full advantage of the on-reservation event to have their young athletes meet a sports superhero they’ve only seen on TV playing for their favorite football team.

Excited 8-year-old Annavay Hatch and 7-year-old Lila Joel described meeting the former Seahawks Pro Bowler as “Good. Wait, no, it was great!” Both ran multiple passing routes in the hopes of catching a football thrown by Bennett. Annavay beamed a huge smile after catching a Bennett pass, while Lila was unable to, but still had lots of fun trying. “I caught zero. The ball was slippery, but I came really close a couple times,” she said. 

Making a memory she’s sure to never forget, 11-year-old Noelani Cultee ran a Doug Baldwin-like comeback route, jumped up, extended her arms as far as she could and made a highlight catch by bringing in a Bennett pass thrown well above her head. Following the impressive play she boasted, “That was so cool. I thought I wasn’t going to catch it because I could feel it slipping through my fingertips, but I held onto it!” 

Countless youngsters made the most of their opportunity to catch a pass from the Super Bowl champ. One after another managed to reel in a pass and after each successful attempt they’d quickly run the ball back to Bennett and give the professional football player an ecstatic high-five. At one point Bennett joked he’d connected on so many touchdown throws that the Seahawks should sign him as their backup quarterback.

As the kids motioned around the football field transitioning from station to station they completed a number of physical activities. Aside from the countless curl, post, slant, and out routes ran, they also engaged in agility ladders, tested their lateral reactions with cone drills, jumped mini hurdles, and got stronger with lunges, squats and pushups just like the pros. With a DJ providing musical hits to workout to, there were only positive and encouraging vibes in the air.

“You can just feel the positive energy that’s here in this moment,” marveled Jaci McCormack (Nez Perce), founder of the nonprofit Rise Above which uses sports to educate and empower native youth to live healthy lives. “There’s no way to measure how these camps and athletic clinics impact these kids long term, but if we could measure that I think it would be a significant. 

“These kids are going to remember catching a pass from Michael Bennett for the rest of their lives,” continued Jaci. “It’s not necessarily about football, it’s about Michael and all the volunteer coaches choosing to be here and spend time with them. We care about them, they are our future and for them to choose to make positive choices every day is the ultimate goal. Experiences like this speaks volumes to our kids and lets each of them know they matter.”

Following the football-filled afternoon, everyone gathered in the end zone to conclude the event with a traditional song. Bennet was gifted a unique ‘Salish Song’ paddle and commemorative 12th Man hand drum. Generously giving of his time, the NFL defensive end stuck around for an additional hour and a half to ensure every camp participant and adoring fan, including many parents and volunteer coaches, received an autograph and one-on-one picture.

“When you interact with tribal people, you feel the spirit of everything around, the essence of where you are,” reflected Bennett as he walked off the field and took in the scenery that is Tulalip Bay. “Here there’s a culture behind everything, there’s a significance to everything being done. It’s powerful, something I’ll never forget.”

Special Olympian Bruce Williams brings home gold

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Since 1968, the Special Olympics have been a global movement used to unleash the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports. They empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all.

In Washington State, year-round sports training and athletic competition are provided in a variety of Olympic-type sports for more than 18,000 children and adults who refuse to believe a disability is a limitation. These inspiring individuals are given continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of friendship with their fellow athletes.

Thirty-seven-year-old Bruce Williams is a proud Tulalip tribal member who has competed in numerous sporting events at the Special Olympics for over a decade. Previously showcasing his skills at soccer, basketball and volleyball in years past, Bruce is now focused on track and field. He’s had a long-time passion with running, so it was only a matter of time before he transitioned to track.

Bruce’s collection of previously won medals.

On Sunday, April 28 the Cascade Area Regionals were hosted at Mariner High School in Everett. After months of preparation and sporting his brand new pair of Nike Free running shoes, Bruce was ready to race. His first competition was the 100-meter sprint. In a highly contested dash, Bruce took 2nd place, finishing less than a tenth of a second behind the 1st place runner. For his effort he was awarded a silver medal.

A short while later, Bruce again took to the starting line, this time for the 200-meter sprint. This time he wouldn’t be denied the gold. From the start he jumped out in front of the pack and maintained his momentum all the through the finish line. A huge smile on his face after finishing 1st, Bruce was beaming when he received a gold medal.

The Special Olympian proudly wore his two medals every day the following week. He made time to sit down with Tulalip News staff and share his thoughts about winning gold and silver in his two athletic events. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:

Q: How does it feel to be a gold-winning Olympian?

A: “Feels great! Very proud of winning. Want to show everybody my medals.”

Q: What was your training routine like? 

A: “Train on the treadmill, do laps at the Marysville YMCA, and lots of track stretches. Very important to stretch.”

Q: Any special foods you like to have on race day?

A: “Strawberry yogurt is my favorite and lots of water.”

Q: You raced in a pair of Nike Free shoes. What do you like about them?

A: “They make me run fast!”

Q: Were you nervous going into your races?

A: “A little. Lots of people racing, but I’m the fastest one around.”

Q: You’ll be competing at the Spring State Games next month. What are your expectations?

A: “Win more gold, the big one this time.”

Bruce will be prepping over the next several weeks to compete against the best Special Olympians in the state. The 2019 Spring State Games will be held May 31 – June 2 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Bruce asks that anyone who isn’t busy those days to come out and cheer him on to victory. 

RaeQuan named Youth of the Year

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

RaeQuan Battle’s inspirational journey from rez ball rookie to Marysville Pilchuck legend to University of Washington commit continues to demonstrate a seemingly limitless potential on the basketball court. Even with a bright future ahead of him and dreams of making the NBA, the 6-foot-5 human highlight real has never forgotten his roots. Those roots keep him grounded with a rare humility and silent strength that don’t go unnoticed by adults and youth alike.

That is just one of the many reasons RaeQuan was named by the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club as Youth of the Year. The 18-year-old high school senior was honored with a custom plaque and given some fancy gadgetry, a 2-in-1 Notebook/Tablet, in front of a crowd of his adoring young fans on March 12. 

For years, the Youth of the Year program has honored and celebrated the Club’s most inspiring teens and their incredible journeys. Stories of outstanding leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to living a healthy lifestyle have made Youth of the Year a premier leadership and recognition program for teens. These amazing young people represent the voice and spirit of hope for children everywhere, inspiring kids to lead, to succeed, and to inspire.

“RaeQuan has been coming to our Boys & Girls Club since he was 5-years-old,” said Club Director Mark Hatch. “We see his greatness with basketball, but more importantly we see how he’s become a true inspiration for our young ones who look up to him as an example of what’s possible through hard work and dedication.”

“He was chosen for his volunteering and mentoring with the youth, and for his community service, sportsmanship and demeanor,” added Office Manager Diane Prouty.

Each year, one exceptional Club member is selected to be Youth of the Year, serving as an ambassador for Boys & Girls Club youth. Over the years, these individuals have exemplified the Boys & Girls Club mission and are proof to the impact Clubs make in creating life changing opportunities that transform the lives of countless Club kids.

“The first time I ever played basketball was here. I fell in love with basketball right here,” reflected RaeQuan as he stood in the Club’s gym with a horde of basketball fledglings around him, each eager to witness one of his gravity defying dunks. “I want all the kids to know they can turn out just like me or be even better. All they have to do is take advantage of their opportunities.” 

Following the ceremony, RaeQuan’s mother Jacquie Williams shared, “Having the Tulalip Boys & Girls Club for my kids to attend and grow up at has been a true blessing. RaeQuan wouldn’t be who he is today if not for all the experiences and lessons learned by being a Club kid.”

RaeQuan leads Marysville-Pilchuck to best ever showing at State

RaeQuan Battle

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Back in early December, the much-hyped boys basketball team of Marysville-Pilchuck high school (M-P) were in the midst of early season struggles after starting their 2018-2019 campaign with a disappointing (1-3) record. Incredibly, the bumpy start has been all but forgotten as the Tomahawks responded by winning their next 19 games in a row.

Led by Tulalip tribal member RaeQuan Battle, a 6’4 shooting guard and fourth best Washington State recruit*, the Tomahawks strong finish to the regular season proved the pre-season hype was legit. Their 19-game win streak included domination over their league foes when they stampeded through the 3A District Tournament (beating Shorecrest 64-42, Stanwood 80-50 and Arlington 65-47) en route to claiming back-to-back District Championships. 

After dispatching Kelso 72-51 at Regionals, Marysville-Pilchuck earned the #4 seed for the WIAA Hardwood Classic, Washington State’s Championship Tournament. The annual tournament took place February 27 – March 2 at the Tacoma Dome.

A hard fought battle with O’Dea in their opening round resulted in a 53-63 loss, the team’s first since December 10. In that game O’Dea attempted 26 free-throws compared to just 9 attempts for M-P. RaeQuan’s stat line of 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks proved he did everything possible to keep his team in the game

Alec Jones-Smith

The Tomahawks had no choice but to shake off the loss quickly with a matchup against Ingraham only hours away. M-P went up 36-31 at halftime, continued to build on their lead in the 2nd half, and won 80-68. RaeQuan double-doubled in the game, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow Tulalip tribal member and high school junior Alec Jones-Smith received quality minutes down the stretch while chipping in 5 points.

Fourth place was on the line when M-P took on Kelso in the waking moments of March 2. In a tightly contested matchup, the Tomahawks jumped out to an early 16-9 lead in the 1st quarter. However, Kelso battled back by running play after play through their talented 6’6 center Shaw Anderson. Having no one on the roster capable of guarding the Kelso big man straight up, M-P trailed 26-31 late in the 2nd quarter.

Aggressive, fast-faced Tomahawk basketball ensued in the 3rd and 4th quarter. RaeQuan showcased his 3-point shooting touch by knocking down five long-range buckets and managed to block Kelso’s center for a huge defensive play to fire up his squad. After going up 50-38, the boys wouldn’t look back and claimed a decisive 71-60 victory.

The 4th place finish at State marks the best ever showing for a Marysville-Pilchuck team. 

Three Tulalip tribal members on the M-P
Tomahawks team are
senior RaeQuan Battle (holding trophy), junior Alec Jones-Smith (11th from left) and junior TJ Severn (4th from left).

“I’m so proud. This is a special group,” said M-P Coach Bary Gould postgame. “They played for the love [of the game] and made history. So much of what we do hinges on RaeQuan and when he lets the game come to him, he is incredible…he’s such a difference maker. The surrounding pieces all stepped up in a big way to put us over the edge.”

“Our journey to State was a total team effort and showed our mental toughness,” added RaeQuan. During the State Tournament, when competition is at its highest, he averaged a whopping 23 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while leading his team to the history books.

“I was ready and prepared to play against this level of competition thanks in part to playing on the Nike AAU circuit last spring and summer,” explained RaeQuan. The four-star recruit has committed to the University of Washington. “Hard work really does pay off. Looking forward, my goals are to keep getting stronger over the summer to prepare myself for the college level.”

A huge congratulations to the M-P team on their history-making efforts, especially their trio of Tulalip hoopers: senior RaeQuan Battle, junior Alec Jones-Smith and junior TJ Severn. 

*Source: 2019 ESPN Recruiting Database

Regional battle on the hardwood – Tulalip vs. Muckleshoot

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The (20-4) Tulalip Heritage Hawks earned a #4 seed for the 1B Boys Regional Playoffs, the last stepping stone preceding Spokane’s annual State Tournament. Fresh off a quality Tri-District showing and decisive victory over inner-league rival Cedar Park Christian, the Hawks hit the road on Saturday, February 22 to the city of Mill Creek. Playing on a neutral site, Jackson High School, the boys were greeted by a rather large cheering section of home fans who journeyed off the Rez to root on their squad.

Their Saturday showdown opponent was the #5 seed Muckleshoot Kings (22-3) who were riding a 13-game winning streak. Being a fellow tribal school with a quick paced, high-intensity style of play that mirrors their own, Heritage coaches knew what to expect.

“Our keys to the game are to make sure we start off the right way. That’s been our struggle all year long is starting the 1st and 3rd quarters with focus and intensity,” said assistant coach Bradley Fryberg pre-game. “On defense, we want to be our usual aggressive selves to make their guards struggle. When we’re aggressive, especially on both sides of the ball, we are difficult to beat.” 

In the 1st quarter, Tulalip players were getting perimeter jump shot opportunities like they are used to, but those shots just weren’t falling. Missed jumper after missed jumper clanked off the rim as the boys found themselves quickly trailing 4-12. Unable to capitalize on long-range shooting, several Hawk players stopped settling and attacked the basket. Paul Shay, Jr., Josh Iukes and Alonzo Jones each scored layups from strong dribble drives. With seconds remaining in the opening quarter, guard Leno Vela knocked down the team’s first 3-pointer. After one quarter of play, Tulalip trailed 13-21.

Injuries struck both starting center Rodney Barber (rolled ankle) and his backup Oliver (concussion-like symptoms) in the 1st half, leaving the Hawks without a true big man available to rim protect. With Tulalip forced to play small ball, Muckleshoot took full advantage by feeding their two post players, resulting in point blank buckets, and taking a commanding 33-16 lead late in the 2nd quarter. 

Alonzo did his best to spark a Heritage scoring run, highlighted by an emphatic block and then going coast-to-coast for a transition bucket. Heritage would cut their deficit to 10 points at halftime when they trailed 28-38. The shooting woes were exemplified by the 3-point numbers to that point with Muckleshoot knocking down six 3-pointers compared to Tulalip only hitting two.

In the 2nd half, Muckleshoot continued to execute their offense and score easy buckets in the painted area. In fact, their first six buckets of the half were all layups. Down 40-59 midway through the 3rd, senior Josh Iukes vented his frustration with an offensive barrage. Iukes scored 10 points in a span of three-minutes to give the Tulalip cheering section a jolt of excitement. 

Heritage would rally late to once again cut their lead to 10 points, 55-65, but Muckleshoot immediately responded with an 8-0 scoring run to ice the game. Trailing 55-73, Coach Bubba inserted his bench players. Sixth man Josh Miranda made the most of his opportunities and scored 9 points in the game’s final minutes.

Final score 65-76. Alonzo led his team with 15 points, Iukes scored 13 points, and Jr. Shay chipped in 12 points. 

“We really slowed down on defense, especially in the 2nd half and that did us in,” shared forward Alonzo Jones postgame. “It was really fun to play against a fellow tribal team because the crowd was excited and got crazy after each big bucket.”

“I know we can play so much better because whenever we stop playing as a team and lose focus we make it real difficult on ourselves,” added guard Josh Iukes. “I know as a super senior I’m back for a reason and have to do better at leading the team when we hit a rough spot. When we play together there is no one that can beat us. We’ll learn for this loss, keep our spirits up, and look forward to making a run at State.”

It was a disappointing loss for the Hawks, for sure, however with their high seeding they still advance to State. Their 1st round opponent is #12 seed Oakesdale. Game to be played February 27 at 7:15pm at Spokane Arena. 

Heritage Hawks take care of business at Tri-Districts, move on to Regionals

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

After an impressive regular season showing, the Tulalip Heritage Hawks took 2nd at the 1B District Tournament. Now, with an (18-3) overall record, the boys earned the right to host an opening round game of the Tri-District Tournament.

On Thursday, February 14, Tulalip hosted the Mustangs of Rainier Christian at Francy J. Sheldon gymnasium. It was a sluggish start for the home team, as the Hawks fell behind 0-8 in the early going. Coach Cyrus “Bubba” Fryberg called a 1st quarter timeout to fire up his team and they responded in a big way. Led by guards Leno Vela and Paul Shay Jr., Tulalip righted the ship and went on an impressive 29-10 scoring run to take a 29-18 lead midway through the 2nd quarter.

With the defense clamping down and forcing turnovers left and right, Heritage was able to transition into their fast-break offense and score easy buckets. Being at the Tri-District stage, every team was more than capable of game changing scoring barrages to shift momentum. Early in the 3rd quarter the boys took a 42-29 lead only to watch it slowly fade away. Rainier Christian didn’t buckle and starting knocking down contested shots. What was once a 13 point lead was whittled to only 4 points, 46-42, with two minutes to go in the 3rd. 

In a pressure filled situation, in front of a raucous home crowd, the boys responded yet again. Shay, Jr. caught fire from long range to hit three consecutive 3-pointers, while Alonzo Jones was attacking the rim and finishing multiple acrobatic shots. A 27-11 run gave the Hawks a 20 point lead, up 73-53, with only four minutes remaining. The big lead allowed Coach Bubba to sub in his bench and let the team’s youngsters get a taste of the Tri-District playoffs.

Tulalip won 84-65. The team was led by Shay, Jr.’s game-high 20 points, while Alonzo and Isaac Comenote scored 17 points each.

“Our defense sparked on our offense in both halves,” reflected Coach Fryberg postgame. “Sometimes we get too comfortable shooting 3-point shots when we could be driving more and feeding our post players. When we force turnovers and are playing aggressive defense it carries over and allows us to be aggressive and attack the basket, like we did in the second half.”

Due to the snow days and resulting school district closures, Tulalip didn’t get any days rest like the Tri-District Tournament usually calls for. Instead, they hit the road the very next day and travelled to Port Angeles for a highly anticipated matchup with Neah Bay. 

The Hawks offensive momentum carried over from the day before, as they took a 15-13 lead after the 1st quarter. But everything changed in the 2nd quarter. One foul call after another quickly mounted and threw Heritage off their game. They only managed to score 6 points in the quarter and trailed 21-26 at halftime. 

In the 2nd half, Tulalip bounced back early. Alonzo Jones and Josh Iukes combined to score 13 of the team’s 17 points in the 3rd quarter. They held their team afloat but still trailed 38-45 going into the final quarter. Neah Bay took complete control in the 4th, while Tulalip struggled again to put up an offensive fight. The Hawks were outscored 6-21 in the game’s final minutes, resulting in a 44-66 loss. The 44 points marked a season-low in scoring for the Hawks. 

The loss to Neah Bay pitted Tulalip in a high-stakes matchup with league foe Cedar Park Christian in a 3rd round Tri-District game. A high seeding and berth in Regionals was at stake. The game took place Saturday, February 16 in Mount Vernon. 

Knowing the stakes and having confidence from beating Cedar Park decisively three times this season already, the Heritage Hawks (19-4) steamrolled for big time victory in front of a large Tulalip crowd that made the journey to cheer them on.

In the 1st quarter, Heritage jumped out to a 15-4 advantage thanks in part to a patient offense that probed Cedar Park’s zone defense. The patience led to uncontested jumpers from the outside or easy buckets at the rim. Leading by 11 points at the halftime, Tulalip hosed Cedar Park in the 3rd quarter by holding their opponent to a measly 2 points. Meanwhile, Paul Shay, Jr. once again caught fire from deep and made three triples to push his team’s advantage to 51-20. 

With a comfortable lead, Coach Bubba was able to get his bench players some run in the 4th quarter en route to a 61-31 blowout victory. Tulalip was led by Shay, Jr.’s game high 16 points, while Alonzo Jones scored 15 and Rodney Barber added 14.

“My team’s season is going great so far,” said senior guard Shay, Jr. following the win. “In the middle of the regular season we did struggle a bit with our mindset by letting little stuff get us down, but now that playoffs are here we’ve been playing really well again. We took a tough loss to [Neah Bay] that has us more than ready to chase a State title. We’ve come together as a team and a family. The mindset of us seniors is getting back to State and winning it all this time!”

The quality showing at Tri-Districts has boosted the Hawks to the #4 spot for all 1B schools in the state, according to the WIAA rankings. Next up, the Hawks will matchup with fellow tribal school Muckleshoot in a Saturday showdown at Jackson High School in Mill Creek.

Tulalip wrestlers put on a show at Novice Championship

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Of the many sports children can participate in, wrestling is perhaps the most misrepresented, misunderstood, and underrated. Each year hundreds of thousands of kids participate in this non-violent combat sport, yet the average person knows as much about wrestling as they might know about rugby or polo.

“Wrestling is perhaps the purest form of athletic competition to exist in the realm of organized sports,” explained Young Champions President Bill Campbell. “There are no bats or balls, or pucks or sticks. No pads or helmets or jerseys. There’s no time to rethink strategy, regroup, or even to catch your breath. There’s only you, and your opponent of equal weight and size. Experience, preparation and the will to succeed will determine the victor. There’s no doubt about it, wrestling tops the list of intense, highly competitive sports.”

Put that way, it’s no wonder why there is a multi-generational connection of Tulalip athletes who are coming up in the sport and finding serious athletic achievement and personal growth, on and off the mat. Coached by Tulalip tribal members and former wrestling standouts, Sam Davis and Tony Hatch, the Marysville Tomahawks wrestling program has amassed quite the youth following. They have wrestlers of all ages, skill level, and quite a few girls who prove wrestling isn’t just for the boys.

There are additional youth tribal members who are making quite the name for themselves while wrestling under the Punisher wrestling banner, located in Arlington. Regardless of team camp, the aspiring athletes are learning invaluable lessons such as self-discipline, hard work, skill building, and an inner strength that’s only developed over countless hours of practice. Plus, there are many social skills and benefits that come naturally for athletes who learn what it means at an early age to be part of a team. 

“To us, Marysville Tomahawk wrestling is our family,” shared Katie Lancaster-Jones, mother of two Tulalip wrestlers, Milo and Cole. “We started seven years ago when Milo was six-years-old and Cole was only four. They started with Tony Hatch and his family. Now, we work with coaches Sam Davis and Brandon Davis. From the coaches, athletes and families we are all here to help the youth move forward in life, not just the sport. 

“We motivate our wrestlers to keep their grades up, respect one another, and to stay healthy by being active,” continued Katie. “The team is here to teach and to learn from. Wrestling is a life style. There’s a lot of coordinating, planning, and fundraising that requires commitment by our athletes and their families. The team gives them a place to go; gives them goals to work toward. It’s all about our future generations learning how to handle tough moments on and off the mats.”

A large group of local wrestlers were invited to participate in the WWKWL 2019 Novice Championship, which took place on January 27 at Kirkland Middle School. The novice designation means only wrestlers within their first two years of competition. 

In front of family, friends, and hundreds of onlookers, the novice wrestlers competed in an all-day, round-robin style tournament. Win or lose, the collection of wrestlers demonstrated strong grappling maneuvers and a variety of defensive techniques. Several of the kids’ wrestling prowess stood-out even in a gym where eight matches were going on at any given time. 

One such wrestler was 8-year-old Julie Blevins. Representing Tomahawk wrestling, Julie’s limber frame and quickness caught spectator attention as she went heads-up with the boys. She held her own in every match, not allowing herself to be pinned nor giving up any points easy to her male counterparts, and came away victorious in the hearts of her adoring fans.

“She found wrestling naturally because her dad (Jason) wrestled for coaches Sam and Tony back in his wrestling days. Now, he coaches for the Tomahawks program,” said Julie’s mom, Victoria Blevins. “It’s been so awesome watching Julie grow as an athlete. When she first started she was really scared and tentative, but now she pushes through even if she gets hurt or competes against boys tougher than her. Going up against the boys, Julie relies on technique more and that’s given her opportunities to learn some go-to moves. Her confidence has soared since she has learned she’s capable of picking up her opponent and slamming them for a pin.”

Wrestling, like any sport, has its share of phenoms; those that make excellence look like ease. Five-year-old, Tulalip tribal member Julian Lawrence is such a phenom. This year alone he has accomplished quite a bit, taking 1st place in several tournaments held in Spokane and Oregon. In fact, the day before the Novice Championship, Julian competed in another tournament and entered in two separate brackets. He dominated both and took home two 1st place medals for his efforts.

The dazzling five-year-old put on a show in front of community members who couldn’t help but gravitate to whatever mat he was competing on. Pin after pin, Julian overpowered his opponents en route to being crowned a novice champion and earning yet another 1st place medal.

“As parents, we couldn’t be any more proud of our son. Watching him grow stronger, faster and smarter…pushing himself to be the best that he can be…he has so much passion and heart for the sport,” beamed his mother Honeykwa Lawrence. “We are very proud of his sportsmanship, win or lose. Julian has grown into a polite, respectful little boy on and off the mat.

“He has grown so much within these past few months since joining team Punisher. He is constantly learning new things and he soaks it all up like a sponge,” continued Honeykwa. “After this tournament, Julian’s record is currently 50-4, so 50 wins and only 4 losses. We are looking forward to State coming up next weekend. We have high hopes for him and think he will take State title!”



Out of the local Tulalip/Marysville competitors, quite a few wrestled into a high placing or earned a 1st place medal at the Novice Championship. Julian Lawrence, Donte Luong and Conner Juvinel all took home top honors for their brackets. Karter Wright took 2nd place, Troy Blevins took 3rd, and his brother Jason Blevins took 4th. 

For any parents who are interested in getting their kids participating in youth wrestling, feel free to connect with Marysville Tomahawk Wrestling through their Facebook page or email Marysvilletomahawkwrestling@gmail.com

Heritage basketball place 2nd at Districts

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Opening round: Hawks tame Cedar Park Lions, 52-32.

The Heritage Hawks boys basketball team steamrolled through the regular season and finished with an impressive (17-2) record. A high-octane offense averaged 74 points per game while a stingy defense only allowed 42 points to opponents, for a whopping average margin of victory of 30+ points. Prior to the season, these boys had one mission: win a State title. Nineteen regular season games later the mission remained unchanged.

District playoffs kicked off on Thursday, January 31. Heritage’s regular season performance earned them a #2 seed and with it came the rights to host an opening round playoff game at Francy J. Sheldon gymnasium. Their opponent was the Lions of Cedar Park Christian. In their two previous meetings, Tulalip won both easily by 20+ points.

In front of an energetic home crowd, Heritage sputtered on offense to start. Midway through the 1st quarter Tulalip had yet to score and trailed 0-5. Coach Cyrus “Bubba” Fryberg called a timeout to light the fuse of urgency for his explosive team of young gunners. Did they respond? Most certainly. 

The Hawks locked in, took complete control of the playoff game, and went on decisive 26-2 scoring run spanning late in the 2nd quarter. From trailing 0-5 to leading 26-7, the home team gave their crowd much to cheer for. Junior guard Leno Vela led the charge with his combination of dead-eye perimeter shooting and ball pressure yielding steal after steal. Tulalip took a 28-12 lead into halftime.

In the 2nd half, the rout continued. Heritage held the Lions to only 6 points in the 3rd quarter while both Joshes, Iukes and Miranda, added to Tulalip’s scoring barrage from 3-point land.  Entering the 4th quarter, the boys had their largest lead of the game up 23 points, 41-18.

With the outcome only a formality Coach Bubba inserted his bench players to finish the game. The Hawks starters cheered from the bench as everyone celebrated the 52-32 victory.

Leno led all scorers with 13 points and 6 steals. Josh Miranda added 12 points, while Rodney Barber collected a game-high 10 rebounds.

Championship round: Lummi Nation keeps Hawks grounded, 64-77.

Following their opening round win, the Tulalip Hawks had two days to prepare for the much anticipated District Championship game versus Lummi Nation. These two teams were clearly the best of the Northwest 1B league and had split their two regular season matchups. Tulalip won by 9 points back on December 8, but Lummi won by 3 points just two weeks ago on January 15. Both teams entered the game riding winning streaks, four straight Ws for Tulalip and an eye-popping nineteen consecutive wins for Lummi.

Being the Championship round, the game was held at the much larger venue of Marysville-Getchell High School on Saturday, January 2. Fans of both teams flooded the gymnasium and packed the bleachers for a lively atmosphere befitting a battle of two highly touted tribal teams.

In the 1st quarter, both teams traded early baskets notching the score at 5-5. Then Lummi clamped down on defense, leaving Tulalip reeling. Lummi came up with two big blocks and several steals that they turned into easy transition buckets. Meanwhile the Hawks offense couldn’t muster any rhythm, which led to an 8-21 deficit after the opening period.

The Hawks trailed by double digits for most of the game. Early in the 3rd quarter, senior guard Paul Shay, Jr. kept the Hawks offense afloat by continually attacking the basket and drawing contact to get to the free-throw line. In fact, Jr. took eleven free-throws and connected on eight of them. When Isaac Comenote finally found a rhythm and hit back-to-back 3 pointers, Tulalip cut their deficit to just 9 points, 34-43 midway through the 3rd.

To their credit, every time it looked like Tulalip was getting momentum, Lummi responded with a bigger scoring run of their own. Whether it was inside with their post players or hot outside shooting, they always had an answer and pushed their lead back to double digits. Heritage trailed 36-52 at the end of the 3rd quarter en route to a 64-77 loss. Lummi’s 77 points was the most Tulalip had given up all season.

Paul Shay, Jr. led the Hawks with 19 points, while Alonzo Jones added 11 points and 9 rebounds.  It was a disappointing loss in front of a packed gym, but even so Tulalip still placed 2nd in the tournament and earned the right to host an upcoming Tri-District Tournament game. The time and opponent is to be determined. However, we do know the game will be played on Saturday, February 9 at Heritage High School. 

RaeQuan leads M.P. past Arlington in big-time rivalry game

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The Marysville-Pilchuck gymnasium was packed with spectators who came out in droves to witness the highly anticipated matchup between the M.P. Tomahawks (13-3) and Arlington Eagles (11-4) played on January 23. After starting out the season just (1-3), the Tomahawks had been on a tear by way of riding an impressive 12-game winning streak led by 6’5” senior shooting guard and Tulalip tribal member, RaeQuan Battle.

RaeQuan is joined by fellow tribal members Alec Jones and T.J. Severn, both juniors on the much hyped M.P. squad. Arlington has a tribal member on its team, too, in freshman Quintin Yon-Wagner. The Tulalip ties gave even more significance to the regular season game, as many members of their families turned out to watch the athletic contest. Fortunately, everyone in attendance was treated to a very entertaining and competitive game that went down to the wire.

In the 1st quarter, Marysville-Pilchuck jumped out to an early 12-1 lead. Thanks in part to an engaged RaeQuan getting buckets from the perimeter, inside, and at the free-throw line his Tomahawks led 14-4 after the opening period. Alec, coming off the bench, provided instant defense and on-ball pressure for the Tomahawks’ backcourt. 

After enjoying a 28-18 halftime lead, M.P. saw their advantage disappear when Arlington caught fire from the perimeter and made back-to-back 3-pointers. Things took a bad turn midway through the 3rd quarter when RaeQuan took an accidental elbow to the head. The contact opened up a cut along his eye and forced him to the M.P. bench while receiving medical treatment. 

With their best player on the bench, the Tomahawks’ offense struggled. Meanwhile, Arlington hit several consecutive jumpers to give the Eagles their first lead of the ball game. Alec scored a transition layup for the Tomahawks, tying the game at 36-36, but at the end of the 3rd quarter M.P. trailed Arlington 36-38.

The 4th quarter was a back and forth thrill ride, with players on both teams trading clutch baskets for minutes at a time. However, it would be the University of Washington commit RaeQuan proving to all onlookers why he’s the number four ranked player in Washington State, according to ESPN.

In a one possession game, late in the final seconds, RaeQuan hit a dazzling step-back 3-pointer to put the Tomahawks up 54-50. Only moments later he followed up his offensive display with an equally as good defensive stop, chasing down an Eagle’s guard and soaring for an emphatic block to seal M.P.’s comeback victory. 

 “I’ve been a part of a lot of close games last year. That experience taught me to always be prepared so in those moments I don’t get nervous,” shared RaeQuan following the win. “It was tough building a double-digit lead against a solid Arlington team only to watch it disappear. As a team we have a lot of trust in one another. That trust makes us stay calm and we ended up going on a 9-0 scoring run after giving up the lead.”

Regarding those two game changing plays he had at critical stage of the game, RaeQuan said draining the 3-pointer was the sweeter moment because the team needed the points more. Makes sense, buckets win games.

Marysville-Pilchuck has two more regular season games left before the 3A District playoffs begin February 9. 

 

2 Wheels, 1 Engine, No Limits: Melissa Hammons thrives in arenacross racing

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

High-revving engines, roaring exhausts, and non-stop adrenaline rushes…that’s the atmosphere of amateur arenacross racing. Think of it as action packed motocross, but taking place indoors. Within the non-stop, dirt bike racing scene is 15-year-old Tulalip tribal member Melissa Hammons is seeking glory on a dirt battlefield. 

“Racing arenacross is my passion, it’s what I love to do most of all,” declared the fierce teenager who has been riding dirt bikes and quads since she was just 5-years-old. “The sport of arenacross has changed my life because when I’m racing I feel free, nothing else matters.”

Arenacross races take place in sports stadiums and arenas all over the globe. They are run over man-made terrain courses with hills, jumps and tight turns. The scaled-down version of motocross features shorter, more technical temporary tracks and often attract large crowds. Recognized as one of the most strenuous sports in the world, it’s also one of the most fun. 

What draws a female like Melissa to a sport so physically demanding and potentially dangerous? For her it’s the excitement, the thrill of riding on the edge, of performing to peak potential and above all else beating other racers to the checkered flag.

“What matters most to me is getting that 1st place trophy,” explained Melissa. “This past racing season was my fourth on the amateur circuit and best season I’ve ever had. Sure, I had my share of crashes and DNF’s this season, but I’ve also placed in the top three a bunch. For me, taking 1st place twice this season in my women’s 16+ class and 1st once in my Lites class with boys is what I’m most proud of.”

That’s right, not only does the 15-year-old rider compete in higher age women divisions, she also regularly races with the boys…and wins.

“My girl is a badass!” boasted Melissa’s mom, Sara Hart. “She dominates the track even when competing against guys. As a mom, I still get nervous every time before she races with the men, but once she’s out there I have full confidence in her abilities.” 

What was once just raw ability and a fierce competitive spirit during her early racing days has since been honed in and given a laser-like focus based on countless hours spent practicing with racing coach Eric Waunch of E.W. MX School.

“I’ve been working with Melissa for about a year now, and she’s really put in the time and effort into making herself a better rider,” reflected coach Eric, a former long-time motocross pro. “Her commitment and willingness to always push her abilities to new limits is really a joy to coach and fun to work with. With Melissa, keeping her focus on the technical side of riding is most important. She’s so fast and fearless, but when she adds precision and controlled aggression to the mix her racing goes to a whole new level.”

This past season, Melissa has been placing (finishing top 3) regularly and adding to her countless bounty of racing trophies. She admitted that when she first started racing against the boys it was added motivation to win, but now that her skills have grown so much it no longer matters who or what age she is competing against. Also, it helps that she has a mighty large contingent of fans who follow her from race to race and are always cheering for her, win or lose.

“I am forever thankful for my support of family and friends, especially to my grandpa Don ‘Wheatie’ Carpenter who has always been my number one supporter,” shared Melissa. “If it wasn’t for my coach Eric, I wouldn’t be achieving the things that I am right now. I’ve learned you can’t just race and expect to go somewhere; you need to put in the time, work, and effort even if that’s blood, sweat and tears.”

Her skills were on full display on January 19 when she competed in WHR’s Northwest Arenacross Nationals that took place in Monroe. In front of family, friends, and numerous spectators, Melissa showcased her riding expertise while competing in two divisions: women’s 16+ and against the boys in Lites. 

Blazing around the track on her 250cc Honda 4-stroke, Melissa wowed the dirt bike enthusiasts in attendance with a level of speed and aggression she is known for. After a series of practices and qualifying races, the four-lap Final races were a go. Against the women, Melissa finished 2nd overall. In her race against the boys, when the checkered flag flew, she took 1st to the delight of her fans and family.

“Racing in a male-dominated sport and succeeding like she does proves she is a confident, strong and independent young woman,” said Melissa’s grandmother, Lena Hammons following the 1st place showing. “Her aggressiveness in the races says she will not settle for less in her life. Melissa is an amazing role model and her family is so proud of her.”

Looking to the future, the multi-trophy winning dirt bike rider has set her sight on bigger ambitions already. She wants to accomplish what many have been unable to do, become a professional motocross rider. 

“A female rider going pro, yeah a lot of people don’t see it,” admitted Melissa when pondering her future in the sport. “But all I know is I’m going to work hard and keep bettering my skills until it happens. Just wait, I’ll be 16 soon and have a driver’s license. Then I can really accomplish even more while chasing my dreams.”