Shiprock NW now has tackle-football program

(Times photo - Sunnie Clahchischiligi)

Shiprock Northwest High School football players work on a play during practice at the high school on Sept. 9.

By Sunnie Clahchischiligi
Navajo Times

SHIPROCK, N.M., Sept. 12, 2013

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(Times photo - Sunnie Clahchischiligi)

Shiprock Northwest High School football players take their positions while assistant coach Harrison Cambridge instructs during football practice at Northwest High School held on Sept. 9. This is the first tackle football program the school has had in its 11-year existence.

The Shiprock Northwest High School football players hope that someday the sign that welcomes visitors into the community will read "Home of the Falcons".

The sign now reads "Home of the Chieftains" because Shiprock High School has been the lone high school football team in one of the biggest towns on the Navajo Nation - but not anymore.

There's a new group of kids in town and they're looking to show another side of Shiprock and make a name for their school while they're at it.

Lyle Bonney, 16, one of two juniors on the team said he's passed that very sign that stands just outside of the Shiprock Chapter just about every day. He said it might be time for a change.

"We're going to go down there and ask them to put Home of the Falcons on there because we're thinking of taking over also," Bonney said with a laugh.

Bonney is part of the new tackle football program at Shiprock Northwest. It is the first time in the school's 11-year existence that it has had a tackle football program, let alone a football program at the high school level.

Shiprock Northwest head coach Vincent Lee, who was an assistant and head coach for the middle school flag football team, said the program has been a long time coming.

Lee said many male students started to leave the high school to play tackle football at other schools because there wasn't a program at Shiprock Northwest.

"The male numbers in our school aren't so high, and I thought this was a great way to keep these students in our school É" Lee said. "These students could really do well if we could keep them in our high school, unfortunately a lot of them are leaving to go play football at surrounding schools."

Lee noticed it about two years ago, so he, his middle school flag football players and some parents decided to push for a tackle football program.

Lee is a 1997 graduated of Navajo Preparatory School and played football under Earl Crisp and Robert Adams when the team qualified for the state championship in 1995 and 1997.

A petition was started but Lee said it took some time to get supporters involved.

"The second year, last year it really caught on fire," Lee said. "Parents got on board and the kids are the ones that really pushed it."

The kids stayed in school, kept up with their studies and proved to their family, school board and administrators that they deserved a tackle football program.

Lee said the young players were so persistent that after only a year of convincing, they got what they wanted. One of the driving forces behind the igniting of the program was Derrick Werito. Werito was an eighth grade player on the team who suffered a season-ending injury on Sept. 6 in the game against Many Farms; Lee said the team wishes him well.

"They were able to kind of show the school that this is something that they wanted," Lee said of his team. "That it was going to be something kind of necessary for them to stay at this high school, so the school bought into it."

The Falcons are in the 11-man, Class 1A independent classification.

Lee said any first-year football program is mandatorily put into the classification for one year.

As an independent team they are unable to participant in district games, titles and the state championship tournament at the end of the season. After the program's first year they will be placed into a district. Lee said his team might be in the class 2A-5 district next year with Navajo Pine and Ramah.

All of which is just fine with Lee and the boys, at least for now. Lee said one of the hardest transitions for his players is getting used to the physicality of the sport.

"Everyone of my kids never played contact football, even my senior," he said. "The biggest issue has been contact, getting the kids used to contact É that comes from experience, playing games and getting used to the contact and the speed of the game. It's a lack of being exposed to it."

Alyias Thomas, 13, an eighth-grade student at the middle school said getting used to the contact has been most difficult for him and his teammates. He said it might be hard but it's not keeping him from playing.

"It's time to bring flag football out and bring tackle football in -- tackle is more physical than flag," he said. "It's a great sports. It's fun. It's good to relieve energy and stress."

Thomas is one of a total of 19 players on the team. He is also one of three eighth-grade students. The rest of the team is made up of freshman, sophomores, two juniors and one senior.

The team has played two games so far this season. They lost in their season opener with Rock Point 6-56, followed by another loss to Many Farms 0-52.

Lee said with such tough losses most young men would be discouraged and disappointed, but not his team.

"Nobody has quit, they all come back. They're working hard, they're still working hard, they bought into the system that we're going to get better," Lee said. "I'm really happy to see that in them, that they're not upset or looking at each other or getting mad at the coaches."

Bonney said he never played a day of football and didn't watch very much of it but signed the petition to get the most out of his high school experience.

"We have a football field here and we hardly use it," he said. "I was just thinking it should be put to use, and I'd probably be one of the ones putting it to use."

He said at times the games does get tough but then he thinks of the support from his family and changing the sign that welcomes everyone to Shiprock.

"We have our parents to thank to keep us in football," he said. "This year, right now, we're just starting out, maybe next year tell the Chieftains to watch out."

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