By AMBLE SMOKER
ONE FEATHER STAFF
MURPHY – Few instances can replicate the emotional power of athletic sporting events and the proud traditions of the Cherokee culture. However, with the recent Smoky Mountain Conference tournament victory, the Cherokee Middle School boys basketball team proved to do just that when they defeated the Swain County Maroon Devils 40-30 on Thursday, Feb. 6 at Murphy High School.
The young Braves capped off a phenomenal year where they not only captured the SMC Tournament championship, but did so in a manner that honors their cultural heritage while promoting the continuation of the Cherokee language.
Coach Micah Swimmer has introduced the Cherokee language into the game plan of the men’s Cherokee Middle School basketball team as a way to teach and perpetuate the language. Utilizing the native Cherokee language, the young men learn vital words, phrases, and numbers to assist with their learning development while also gaining a competitive advantage on the court.
Coach Swimmer recalls, “In high school, I remember playing against Choctaw Central and it amazed me to hear them speak their native language on the basketball court and football field. My sophomore year, we were playing at home and the whole first half they were telling each other all kinds of stuff in their language and we had no idea what they were saying. At half time, my friend had an idea to say the Pledge of Allegiance. He said, ‘I will bring the ball up and I will yell a-tu-is-do-di and you yell back tsi-tu-is-di and cut to the basket.’ We felt proud because we were using our language and they didn’t know what we were saying. After that night, I made it a goal of mine to learn our language and coach for the Braves while trying to preserve our language through sports. It has proved to be an advantage for my teams and instilled a sense of pride.”
Coach Swimmer took those same concepts and incorporated them into his coaching style as all the plays and calls are in Cherokee. At a recent semi-finals game, one of the players missed an open man and Coach Swimmer yelled, “U-yv-sdi! U-tse-sdi wi-vi-si!” which translates to “Bitter! Give it to Opossum!” Both players understood the call and reacted accordingly.
When asked to elaborate on the importance of each player having a Cherokee name, Coach Swimmer stated, “Each player has a Cherokee name they acquired when they came through my Cherokee language classes at Cherokee Central Schools. Most players chose their own names while some who had traditional last names, such as Walkingstick or Pheasant, usually took their own last name. Everyone knows who my boys are by their English names but very few know who they are by their Cherokee names.”
The CMS Braves finished their illustrious season with a 15-2 record while clinching the SMC tournament championship.