DENISON, Texas – Cherokee Nation citizen Blayke Haggard of Gans, Oklahoma, made up one half of the winning fishing team from Northeastern State University to win the YETI FLW College Fishing event on Lake Texoma on April 8.
Haggard and his teammate Cody Metzger of Wagoner, Oklahoma, caught their five-bass limit for a winning weigh to 19 pounds, 4 ounces.
The victory earned the Riverhawk bass club $2,600 and a spot in the 2019 FLW College Fishing National Championship.
The duo said that they spent the day targeting smallmouth bass on main-lake points, about 5 to 8 miles away from the takeoff ramp at Highport Marina.
“We focused on the points where the wind was blowing the hardest, fishing the mid to southeastern areas of the lake,” Haggard, a sophomore majoring in cellular and molecular biology, said. “We had five or six points that we rotated through that all looked very similar, fishing in 4 to 10 feet.”
The Riverhawk club cited citrus shad-colored Bandit 200 crankbaits and a prototype Bandit squarebill crankbait as its most productive lures. Club members said that they caught 10 to 12 keepers.
“We had great execution,” Haggard said. “I caught a 4-pounder early, then three casts later Cody put a 3½-pounder in the boat. Those early fish clued us in that we were doing the right thing. It also helped that we didn’t lose any fish all day.”
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation officials held a reception on March 27 for the Sequoyah High School Lady Indians basketball team who won the 3A girl’s basketball championship for the third time in four years.
Lady Indians head basketball coach Larry Callison admitted he was unsure about the team’s chances after losing three seniors last year, but he said the team came together late in the 2018 season and peaked before the playoffs.
“It’s been kind of like a dream. I knew we were going to be talented, but I just didn’t know if they would come together, but they did,” he said.
Callison said something clicked after the team’s win over Beggs High School late in the season.
“I knew then we had something special. And when the playoffs got here, there was a light in their eyes that showed me they were ready to go,” he said.
SHS Lady Indian team member and Junior Jonia Walker spoke similarly about the team’s winning season.
“We weren’t really a team at the beginning of the season. We worked hard but individually. But toward the end of the season and especially during the playoffs, we were talking to each other. The bench was going crazy after every made shot,” she said. “We pick each other up and that’s how we won that (Championship) game.”
Those in attendance at the reception included SHS Lady Indians Tamra Soap, Aubrey Brown, Jaide Long, Faren Walker, IceLei Duke, Allison Sells, Lana Gass, Jessica Mackey, Hannah Ballou, Calesa Murdock, Mykal Hayes, Alexys Keys, Daryl Hooper, Jonia Walker, Jordan Gann; Head Coach Larry Callison; Assistant Coaches Jon Minor and Grant Callison; Managers Brittney Bush, Cianna Long and Kaylee Smith.
Superintendent Leroy Qualls, Principal Jolyn Choate and Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden, as well as Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of state Chuck Hoskin Jr., Speaker of the Tribal Council Joe Byrd and Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick also attended the March 27 ceremony to honor the athletes.
GROVE – Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips has made a career on the football field at the professional level, not as a player but as a National Football League official.
After graduating from Jay High School in 1993, Phillips started officiating for extra money while attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where he received a teaching degree.
“I started in football and basketball for gas money to go to college. I did high school and junior high and little league from probably (19)93 to 2006. Then in 2007 I started officiating junior college football,” Phillips said.
In 2009, he began a whirlwind of officiating jobs at the college football Division 1 level by working in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics, Southland, Mountain West and Big 12 conferences.
In 2015, he got a phone call from New York to interview for a NFL job.
“I worked there for 2016 and 2017. I just completed my second year. I was fortunate enough to work the division round playoff game this year between Tennessee and New England. So everything kind of happened pretty fast after 2009,” he said.
Before officiating full time, Phillips taught and coached at Jay and Grove public schools for 15 years. He said it wasn’t fair to his students that he missed so much school due to officiating. “It turned out to be I was just on the road too much and not able fulfill my obligation in the classroom. I didn’t feel right with a substitute there about 60 percent of the time. It wasn’t right for the kids.”
Though Phillips is a NFL official, he still works the collegiate level, helping with spring camps and clinics. He said officiating has become year-round work. “Whether it’s college, and then you jump right into when the NFL things will start, that’s usually around the first part of April. You go from the spring college things right into the NFL stuff. No rest.”
He said as far as he knows he’s the only Cherokee who is a NFL official.
“I’ve been given credit as the first and really only Cherokee citizen to officiate football in the NFL. Now there are other referees that have slight degrees of Indian blood,” he said. “Whenever I go places, whenever I meet people, the first they want to know is what tribe are you? Where are you from? It’s been a real honor to get to go around and talk to people about the Cherokee Nation and being a part of such a big, big group of people.”
He said he’s met a lot of interesting people who have helped him, including fellow NFL official Walt Anderson and college supervisor Phil Laurie. “Every little step you take, you find somebody new and interesting that’s willing to help, and I just been fortunate enough to be involved with the right people.”
Phillips also credits his family for their support and understanding of his job. He said his wife Alisha; sons Trent, Ty and Brady; grandson Kobe; and his mother and father Wanda and Buddy Phillips all gave him their support for his “life-changing experience.”
“It took some adjustments for the first couple of years because life has changed,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s allowed me and my wife and kids and everybody the opportunity to travel. I really like the travel and getting out to see and meet new people.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Sequoyah High School girls basketball team defeated Kingston 53-51 to win the Class 3A girls state championship at the State Fair Arena. It’s the Lady Indians’ second-straight state title and third in the past four years.
After winning state in 2017, they started the 2017-18 campaign ranked No. 1, with pressure to reach state again. Head coach Larry Callison said he expected this year’s team to qualify for state.
“We had the nucleus of our team back,” he said. “We just felt like we had that chance to have a good year. As the year went on, it just seemed like it got better and better.”
For a team of mostly underclassmen, getting better as the season went along was not easy considering the schedule.
“We play a tough schedule. We do that on purpose,” Callison said. “We just think if you’ve got good kids, you need to play good people. I think it definitely helps us for when it gets to playoff time.”
The Lady Indians finish the season 27-3, losing to Class 6A Yukon, Class 4A No. 1 ranked and eventual state champion Fort Gibson and Class 3A rival Adair.
“I think those losses help us,” he said. “I’ve always said you don’t get better by playing teams that aren’t very good. It’s hard to get kids up to play when you know you’re going to beat people pretty bad.”
Sequoyah closed the season with 18 straight wins. The Lady Indians avenged two of the three losses they suffered in the season by defeating Fort Gibson on the road and Adair at home.
They cruised through the district and regional championships by beating Westville 72-35, Verdigris 52-24 and Holland Hall 41-34. SHS beat Beggs in the area final, 57-55.
Many people anticipated an Adair/Sequoyah state final, however Kingston spoiled it by defeating Adair the semifinals.
“Kingston was the real deal though. They were really good and they came in under the radar,” Callison said. “They weren’t expected to be where they were.”
SHS beat Kansas 59-48 and Comanche 50-36 to reach the final.
The Lady Indians expect to return to the state tournament next season as they retain their nucleus of Alexys Keys, 6-footer Jonia Walker and Aubrey Brown. However, Callison said the regular season would be tough as usual.
As for Sequoyah’s boys, the Indians returned to the state tournament for the sixth time in eight years. However, their title bid ended with a 39-36 loss to Hugo in the first round.
“We were the two best defensive teams in the tournament, and when they put us together, there was nothing easy,” head coach Jay Herrin said. “It was really tough game, and I mean very physical. They (the referees) let us play somewhat. It was just one of those games where people weren’t running free and people weren’t getting open shots. You really had to work hard to get a decent shot.”
The Indians tied the game at 36 with eight seconds left. The Buffalos inbounded the ball and G’Quavious Lennox dribbled up the court. With the Indians’ Bobby Cade guarding him, Lennox threw up a long 3-point shot. A foul was called, putting Lennox on the foul line for three shots. He made them all.
“When it first happened, I was like ‘man, they are just blowing it off and they’re not going to do anything and we’ll go into overtime,’” SHS senior Bradyn Smith said. “Then when that guy (referee) came running over pointing in the air signaling three free throws…I just couldn’t believe it.”
The Indians finished 24-5, one win more than the previous season.
“We were able to win all three of our tournaments this year. We won the Shrine Tournament…and then we won the Lincoln Christian tournament,” Herrin said. “Through the course of the year we lost three games in the regular season. We lost to Keys and Lincoln Christian and Fort Gibson, and we were able to beat all three of those teams in rematches.”
SHS cruised through the district and regional tournaments beating Westville 95-39, Verdigris 91-58 and Holland Hall, 61-48.
“In the area tournament, we met up with Star Spencer, and that is the team that put us out in the semifinals of state last year,” Herrin said. “They beat us in the area championship (64-49), so we had to turn around and play on Saturday (March 3), and we beat Beggs in a tough game. Beggs was a really good team, and that’s what put us in the state tournament.”
The Indians lose four starters and some size next season. Herrin said they would play an up-tempo game to make up for it and that making state would be challenging.
“Next year our team will be different. Our guards will be smaller…We lose a lot of strength, size and toughness,” he said. “Those guys are going to have some big shoes to fill, but they’re very good players. This summer will be very important for us to get together and play well and to kind of come together as a group. Hopefully, we’ll be a well-oiled machine next year when the time comes to make the playoffs to make a run and try to get back to the state tournament again.”
MUSKOGEE – Pop punk. Video games. Friendships. What do they all have in common? The band When the Clock Strikes, which released its EP “Overnight” on March 16 and was set to play it the next day at The Vanguard in Tulsa.
The Cherokee Phoenix spoke with the pop punk band as it practiced. It’s comprised of singer and bassist Daniel Basden, guitarist Steven Walker and drummer Blake Westerby. Basden and Walker are Cherokee Nation citizens.
All three began playing their respective instruments as teenagers, and bands such as Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance have influenced their style.
“We try to make our melodies as accessible as possible so people can sing along and just enjoy it,” Basden said.
He added that the band’s love of video games has also influenced its music.
“I first got into punk music by playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on PlayStation,” Basden said. “We’ve covered the Pokémon theme song. We’ve done some songs from (The Legend of) Zelda.”
Formed in 2014, When the Clock Strikes has released EPs with cover and original songs and has toured regionally. With the new EP, Basden said he believes these are the “best” songs they’ve written. “They run a pretty wide emotional range.”
Walker said he believes the “Overnight” EP showcases their most “real” songs.
“I really like how much the songs have become more realized. Actually working with Blake and working with Basden to make what I feel like are probably our most real songs, something that’s fleshed out, has a real art to them,” he said.
Walker said they were able to achieve this because at the end of the day they’re not just a band but friends. “Little things that you can’t quantify that you get from working with Basden as many years as I have and working with Blake. Little things that just…kind of happen on their own that you may not get when you jump into a room full of strangers and start working on music. It feels like the new EP and our music in general is really a testament and a byproduct of our relationship in general with our friendship.”
When coming to live shows, Basden said people should expect a high-energy good time.
“All of our songs are pretty fast,” he said. “Usually our home shows we have people sing along with us, which is really cool.”
During the years of performing, Walker said they’ve created friendships with fans.
“I’d been kind of remiss to call them fans at this point, especially with how tight the community is,” he said. “You make a ton of friends, and you get a lot of cool stories. Everybody that comes to that show went there for a reason. They came there to feel things, and you did, too. I don’t really have a family. This has become my family.”
Westerby said he had a special experience with the band by first being a fan and later joining it.
“I actually took lessons at the music store that Steven use to work at, so that’s kind of where I was first introduced to him. I was probably their biggest fan to start out with, and eventually I came in and been here for about two years now. It’s been a little surreal because I use to be the guy out there listening to them, and now I’m up there so it’s kind of a cool thing.”
Aside from drumming, Westerby also works on audio engineering for their tracks and did so before joining.
“That’s kind of where our video game covers came from. First thing I did with them, before I was even in the band, was record the Mega Man cover. I did that and that’s how we sort of started the dialogue that ended me up here,” he said. “Also, with the engineering that’s how we do our demos, too. With the new EP, we put everything on tape to kind of hear it back, to kind of make adjustments that way we’re kind of stepping back from the whole process and getting to listen to it.”
Looking forward, Walker said WTCS has plans to travel “as far east and as far west” as it can.
To keep up with WTCS, “follow” them on Instagram or “like” them on Facebook.
“Listen to our music. Come to shows. Anything helps,” Westerby said.
TAHLEQUAH – With the warmer weather and longer days, parents and children are preparing for softball and baseball, and Cherokee Nation citizen Leslie D. Hannah is doing the same. However, he’s getting ready to umpire.
Hannah primarily umpires softball and called his first game in 1979 as a college freshman. He said it was to earn extra money, and he’s called at least one game per year since.
“I never thought I would still be doing it nearly four decades later,” he said.
When he began umpiring, there was one major softball association, the Amateur Softball Association, and everyone played by the same rules. Today, he said, there are different associations with different standards and rules. He said once those associations appeared, the game’s spirit began to deteriorate.
“I feel the game has degraded some since I first began. By that I do not necessarily mean the game itself, but more the spirit of the game. More accurately, it’s those who should be invested in the spirit of the game,” he said, “Respect for the officials began to degrade. Respect for the game began to disintegrate. I officiated probably 10 years before I had to eject anyone, and as I recall it that was also the first time I was verbally assaulted as an official.”
Hannah said the lack of respect for officials comes from parents, coaches and players.
“I think the game needs to return to its roots – the spirit of the game, not the spirit of ‘look at me’, especially the youth game,” he said. “If we could just let the kids play without the interference of the adults. Too many times adults ruin the game when they think it is an arena to showcase their talents as a terrible influence. They see the officials as the enemy, and make every effort to dehumanize those in blue.”
Despite the criticism umpires endure, Hannah said he does his best to keep calm and set a good example as a professional. He said he endures the abuse because of his love of the game.
“Umpiring keeps my involved in the game. It keeps me close to the game,” he said. “Plus, I just enjoy it. I get a sense of satisfaction knowing I gave the teams the best game they can get from an umpire. I get a sense of pride knowing that I did my absolute best.”
With the different associations, Hannah said he primarily umpires for USA Softball (formerly ASA), but also umpires at the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association level. He has also umpired in some National Collegiate Athletic Association conferences.
Hannah said it takes a certain type of person to be an umpire.
“I believe an umpire must be incredibly smart, not just about the game, but about people as well,” he said. “People create situations that often times make the umpiring job very difficult, and most of the time for no good reasons. Umpires must be patient, to a point, tolerant, to a point, stern, to a point, but also forgiving, to a point. That point will be different for each umpire and for each situation, that’s why umpires have to be incredibly smart — to be able to ‘read’ each situation.”
He said for people interested in umpiring, they must read the rulebook, attend an umpire clinic and go through annual training. He said even after nearly 40 years of umpiring he still tests annually.
Along with being an umpire in USA Softball, Hannah is its deputy district commissioner for the northeastern district in Oklahoma. He said the association is in need of umpires. “We need more umpires, younger umpires, to take the baton and keep running with it.”
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