Legislators defeat Executive...at least on the court

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, January 31, 2013

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(Times Photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Council delegate Lorenzo Curley closely guards Theron Owens, Navajo Department of Transportation employee, during a basketball game between the Legislative and Executive branch in Window Rock. Owens played with the executive branch. The Council delegates won the game, 56-48.

SECOND FROM TOP: Lamont Yazzie Sr., with the Navajo Department of Transportation, left, is fouled by Jarvis Williams, acting Chief of Staff for Speaker Johnny Naize, Tuesday night during a basketball game between the Legislative and Executive branch in Window Rock. Yazzie was recruited to play with the executive branch.

THIRD FROM TOP: Council delegate Jonathan Nez, left, and acting Chief of Staff Jarvis Williams, right, defends Lamont Yazzie Sr., middle, Tuesday night during a basketball game between the Legislative and Executive branches. The Legislative branch won, 56-48.

W hen the Council faces off with President Ben Shelly during a legislative session, there often isn't a clear winner.

But when the Legislators took it to the basketball court against the Executive Branch Tuesday evening at the Window Rock Sports Center, they emerged as the victors, coming out with a 56-48 win.

The game between the Legislators, which consisted of several Council delegates and Legislative Branch staff, and the Executive Branch officials, including cabinet members from the Office of the President and Vice President and Miss Navajo Nation Leandra Thomas, was an effort by both branches of government to build rapport outside the Council Chambers and executive offices.

Michele Morris, director for President Ben Shelly's Office of Policy and Management, said she was approached by Council delegate Roscoe Smith, a member of the Council's Resources and Development Committee, on Jan. 25 about hosting a basketball challenge between the branches.

Morris agreed to the challenge and started making phone calls that Friday throughout divisions and departments in the executive branch to recruit players.

Her recruiting efforts paid off, as she recruited Navajo Environmental Protection Agency director Stephen Etcitty; Sam Woods, Shelly's policy advisor; Department of Justice Attorney Mary Alvarado; Laura Johnson from the Office of the Controller and Lamont Yazzie from Navajo Division of Transportation, among others.

Smith said the basketball games between the executive and legislative branches date back to the 20th Navajo Nation Council when two former tribal legislators - the late Benjamin Curtis and Larry Noble - formed teams and traveled to communities for basketball and "squaw basketball" games.

"It's a night of exercise during the Council session," said Smith about the government all-star game.

He recruited Council delegates Elmer Begay, Lorenzo Curley, and Jonathan Nez, as well as staff from the Office of the Speaker, including Jarvis Williams, chief of staff, and Carmenlita Chief, public information officer.

Smith said the Legislators would not have pulled out the victory had it not been for Curley's 12 points.

Curley, an avid runner, said it was challenging to play basketball because it works different muscles in the body he normally doesn't focus on while out running.

"On the court you use different muscles and when you're not in shape, it's hard to keep balance," declared the delegate modestly, explaining he was a "3 out of 10" on the fitness barometer.

Though satisfied with the win, Curley did offer his analysis of the game, saying the Executive Branch was lethal with their 3-pointers.

"We had the size inside," Curley said. "We dominated inside, they dominated outside."

When asked who leads the overall series since it began with the 20th Council, Smith replied, "Of course, Legislative, man!"

Morris, however, attributed her team's loss to lending a couple of players to the Legislators to start the game.

"Obviously we had enough players on our side," she said, chuckling. "We finally figured it out when it was too late."

With their next game not scheduled for another two weeks, both branches of the tribal government have time to practice and improve their game.

Morris plans to hold a couple of practice sessions for her team before the next game, adding with a chuckle that she hopes to see a match-up between Erny Zah, spokesman for Shelly, and Council Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler, both large men over six feet tall.

On Wednesday during the third day of the Council's winter session, Speaker Johnny Naize applauded the Legislators for their victory, while also joking in Navajo he smelled Bengay in the Council Chamber.

Smith described the turnout "as well as can be expected."

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