NORMAN, Okla. – Cherokee citizens McKenzie Claphan and Shy-Annah Claphan are having a memorable summer. The cousins are volunteers at a summer camp in Norman for kids with special needs.
They have the opportunity to help kids as they ride horses, canoe on a lake, shoot arrows at the archery range and work on arts and crafts projects. It’s more than a fun way to spend the summer. It’s an opportunity for the girls to honor their family history.
The two are working at Camp ClapHans, which was named in honor of their uncle Sammy Jack Claphan. The camp is an outreach program of the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities.
“I just feel like it’s important to keep his legacy going,” said McKenzie, 20, of Stilwell.
Sammy Jack Claphan, a Cherokee Nation citizen and a Stilwell native, played football at the University of Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in special education.
He later played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers. Claphan retired from the NFL in 1988 and returned to Oklahoma and became a special education teacher. He died in 2001 at the age of 45.
The camp opened in 2013 and is for Oklahoma children ages eight to 18 who have a developmental disability or special needs. The camp is located on the McCarty Center’s campus and features two cabins and an activities building that are located next to an 11-acre lake.
The first of five camp sessions kicked off June 14, and the last day of camp is July 22.
McKenzie and Shy-Annah, 17, said they got interested in volunteering after attending an open house for the camp in 2014 with their family.
“It was amazing,” Shy-Annah, of Stillwell, said about seeing the camp for the first time.
The cousins decided they wanted to get involved as a way to pay tribute to their “Uncle Sam.”
The two describe their uncle as a big “Teddy Bear” who was kind, lovable and had a great sense of humor. Shy-Annah remembers going to the movies with him, while McKenzie recalls a time they went sledding down a snow-packed hill.
“He was just really fun,” Shy-Annah said.
They also admire the compassion and encouragement he showed to his students.
“He loved his job,” McKenzie said. “He just had a huge impact on a lot of the kids.”
Like her uncle, McKenzie said she loves working with kids, which is another reason why she wanted to volunteer at the camp. She said it’s fun to see the excitement on the kids’ faces during the camp.
“You can tell they’re just enjoying being here,” said McKenzie, who is a junior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Shy-Annah is a senior at Stilwell High School. She said what stands out for her about the camp is how there are activities available for all ability levels.
Activities for campers include archery, arts and crafts, campfires, canoeing, dance parties, fishing, horseback riding, talent shows, swimming, and stargazing with members of the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club.
The cousins said they are grateful for the chance to volunteer at the camp and for the opportunity to honor their uncle and continue his work with kids.
“I just feel excited and I know he would be happy and proud of us,” McKenzie said.
<strong>About Camp ClapHans</strong>
Registration: Registration for the 2016 camp sessions begins in January. For information, call Camp Director Kyle Cottrell at 405-307-2814 or e-mail <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>. You can also visit <a href="http://www.campclaphans.com" target="_blank">campclaphans.com</a> for more information.
The camp is for kids with special needs ages 8 to 18 and is located on the south side of the McCarty Center's property in Norman at 2002 E. Robinson St. in Norman.
LOCUST GROVE, Okla. – OK Preps released its Top 10 quarterbacks in Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation citizen Mason Fine, a senior, has made that list at No. 4.
According to OK Preps’ Michael Knight’s breakdown of Oklahoma high school quarterbacks, Fine’s record numbers will likely not be touched.
“Over 5,000 yards and 71 touchdowns, with only 6 interceptions in just 14 games is unheard of. He has every tool in the book. But he’s 5-feet, 10-inches (tall),” Knight said.
Knight said that Fine “could end up being one of the most polarizing recruit in this state’s history. For the simple fact that he should play major college football,” but may not because of his size even though he would “own every passing record in the book.”
Fine said everyone has opinions about his size and whether he will be able to play Division 1 football.
“All I know is that I cannot control my height. I will focus on the things I can control to become the best quarterback I can be and show them I can play at the next level,” Fine said. “Expectations for our team this year are high. Our goal is to win at state championship, anything less than that will be a disappointment.”
Fine told the Cherokee Phoenix that it’s an honor to be chosen one of the top high school quarterbacks in the state.
“It’s a good feeling when your hard work starts to pay off and people notice your talent,” he said.
As a team, Fine said the Pirates continue to prepare for this upcoming season by lifting, running and performing different workouts to improve for the fall.
“We watch film from our spring practices and camps so we can learn from our mistakes,” he added.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A candlelight vigil will be held at 8:30 p.m. on July 15 at the Perry F. Lattimore Stadium in Sallisaw for former Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief R. Perry Wheeler who recently died.
According to CN Communications, Wheeler served as deputy chief for two terms from 1976-84, under then-Principal Chief Ross Swimmer.
“During the eight years he served as deputy chief he was instrumental in the resurrection of the Cherokee Nation government and the development of projects including the Cherokee Nation Industrial Park in Stilwell and the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. He served 12 years as chairman of the Eastern Oklahoma Development District and 27 years as chairman of the Verd-Ark-Ca Development Corp,” CN Communications stated in a release. “Wheeler entered public service when he was elected mayor of Sallisaw and he held the office from 1963-1977. He was a retired businessman with extensive experience in rural and business development in cooperation with the local, tribal, state and federal governments.”
Services are at 10:30 a.m. on July 16 at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sallisaw.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Sallisaw Education Foundation, P.O. Box 276, Sallisaw, OK 74955, according to the release.
LUBBOCK, Texas – Friend. Mentor. Soul. Those were some of the words used to describe the late Robert J. Conley regarding his June 26 induction into the Western Writers Hall of Fame during the Western Writers of America’s annual convention.
WWA Executive Director Candy Moulton said the Cherokee Nation citizen joined the ranks of other men and women who have been recognized for contributions to Western literature. She said Conley was an automatic inductee because he won the 2014 Owen Wister Award, the WWA’s lifetime achievement award, shortly before his death on Feb. 16, 2014, at age 73.
Conley authored more than 80 books, as well as short stories, prose and poetry. He won two WWA Golden Spur Awards for his novels NICKAJACK and THE DARK ISLAND and another Spur for his short story YELLOW BIRD: An Imaginary Autobiography that was published in THE WITCH OF GOINGSNAKE.
Conley served as the organization’s president, vice president and board member. He also attended WWA conventions annually, and that’s where many WWA members got to know him. Whether it was listening to him speak on panels, conduct association meetings, visit one-on-one or gather around as he and other writers swapped stories in the bar, Conley seemed to touch those around him.
“At first I was kind of afraid of him because he, to me, seemed so important. Then one day we sat down on a couch together and started talking and we just became fast friends,” Moulton said of their 1992 encounter. “I admired him as a person. I love his storytelling and I just loved his genuine warmth.
“I remember when we were in Kerrville, Texas. That’s probably when we really connected. We were in Kerrville and somebody was giving me a hard time. It was late, probably the last night or two of the convention. I was exhausted because we had stayed up all night partying,” she added. “We were drinking whiskey, and he was drinking Wild Turkey and we ended up sitting on the couch together and he said, ‘what’s wrong, kid?’ and he said ‘just let me have him and I’ll take care of him. They’re not going to bother you,’ and so he was always somewhat of a protector.”
In 2003, WWA member Terry Del Bene said he instantly felt connected to Conley upon meeting him.
“The first time we met was like meeting an old friend. It just seemed like we were very comfortable together. We seemed to know a lot about each other, and Robert was just so easy going and personable. He just makes you feel like one of the family right off the bat,” Del Bene said. “We were introduced by Cherry Weiner, his agent. I just met Cherry and she understood that I done a lot of stuff on Native American culture, so she introduced me to Robert and (the late Choctaw author) Donnie (Birchfield). They were setting at the table having one of their arguments and I just kind of sat down at the table, and at a certain point I made a joke and we all just kind of fell in with each other. From there we seemed to be pretty good friends.”
Aside from friendship, Conley also advised and mentored his fellow WWA members.
“He was a pretty good mentor to people coming in. He really encouraged people to write. He did some fantastic writing. All alone it should have gotten him in (to the hall of fame), but he was also here for the organization and making it work,” Del Bene said. “He wanted to bring people on and be very supportive. When I met him, as a new writer, he gave good advice and didn’t get pushy about things, just tried to lead you on the right path so you could find your way.”
Moulton said Conley taught her much about Native people, culture and humor.
“I can’t talk about Robert without talking about Donnie. I worked with Donnie for years on the (WWA) ‘Round Up’ magazines as a copy editor, and those two guys, if you didn’t know them, you’d maybe would have thought they were getting after each other. But they were just fast friends, and what I really found was that Indian humor that’s there,” she said. “It’s all this kind of inside stuff that they get, and I’m the crazy white women over there and she doesn’t get that part of it. I think that’s so important that Native writers are telling their stories. We need more of that. We need diversity and we need youth. I know Robert inspired a lot of young writers. We need that and these Native stories that are being told need to be told by the people that know and understand the culture.”
Conley’s wife, Evelyn, said her husband of 38 years also led the way for writers who use Natives as lead characters.
“Robert was most proud of being able to convince some New York publishers to view his Native American characters through a different lens. This is evidenced by his publication of The Real People Series, of which there are 12 novels, and unfortunately, were still labeled westerns in New York because there always has to be a label according to this sort,” she said. “The University of Oklahoma Press has this series and other titles listed in its Native American collection. Many other of his titles have Native Americans as lead characters, especially in the historical fiction he loved to write.”
Moulton agreed that Conley was the first to bring real Native characters to mainstream publishing.
“He was the first who brought a Native American lead character – who wasn’t a caricature but was a real person and with foibles and all the things that real people have – to New York,” she said. “His was such a real voice and strong voice, and he had such a power with his writing that it just came through. That is what really sets him apart in Western literature. There are other people that do it now, and some of them are doing it well, but he was absolutely so far out ahead of everybody else and he was writing from a Native perspective.”
After his death, Moulton called Conley the soul of the WWA because of the trails he blazed, the advice he offered and the friendships he made.
“He’d love to sit in the bar and tell stories. We all come to these conferences, and we sit around and we talk and go to panels and stuff and all that gets done at 8 or 9 or 10 at night. We have music in the roundup room or we have a bar somewhere and we go and we all sit there and talk until 1, 2, 3 in the morning. I know there were times where he and Donnie Birchfield sat up and talked till probably 4 or 5 in the morning,” she said. “What he would be doing here though, he’d be having a grand old time. He’d be visiting with Max (Evans) and all these guys that he’s known for so long and they’d just be telling stories and swapping lies probably as late into the night as they could stay awake. He would love this.”
Del Rene said when Moulton called Conley the WWA’s soul she was “pretty much right on and nobody has stepped into that place.”
“It’s going to be tough shoes to fill. It’ll be a different generation to get somebody back like Robert. He was a father figure. There would be a place at one of these conventions that Robert would sit at and people would go there just to find Robert and spend some time with him, ask him questions and share some stories. He was like a feature at these conventions. Whereas everybody here is just wondering around. There’s no one spot that seems to draw everybody,” Del Rene said. “I remember once we had Robert, Donnie, Stoney (Livingston) and I just talking, telling a bunch of stories, and in about an hour there were 20 people around the table. It turned into this mini-convention in the convention. I’m a minor character in his life, but I feel pretty privileged and happy that I got to know him.”
If Conley had lived to see his induction, Evelyn said he would “have been quite satisfied that his career was recognized by his colleagues in this way. He would want all of them to know how much they inspired him, supported him when he was new to the organization and definitely how much fun it all was along the way.”
But Moulton said she pictures Conley reacting a little differently.
“‘What the hell? What is all this stuff?’ she said jokingly. “He wasn’t out for accolades. He wasn’t out for awards. That wasn’t Robert. He just wanted to tell a story and be with friends. Even the Wister, when I took it to him, he was deeply moved and deeply appreciative, but it wasn’t why he did what he did. I’m certain there was never a day in his life that he sat down to write something and he thought ‘this one is going to be the winner.’ I think he sat down because there was a story that he needed to tell. He would not be caring one way or the other about the hurrah.”
LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma native J.C. (Jerry) High Eagle Elliott shared his experiences working at NASA, including his critical support of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, and his perspective on life as a Native American with attendees of a presentation April 18 at the California Science Center.
Elliott’s talk commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.
Elliott said he was convinced early in life that he would land a man on the moon and enjoyed watching cartoons and TV programs focused on space and space exploration. He majored in physics at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and became the first Native American to graduate from OU with a physics degree. From there, he began his 41-year career at NASA as a flight controller, which Elliott considers his destiny.
Elliott said his Cherokee and Osage heritage played a significant role in his physics degree and NASA career.
“I love physics because, more than anything else, it speaks truly to who I am as a Native American,” he said. “Natives have a unique way of seeing the world because they perceive all things as connected to one another. It’s a systems engineering view of life.”
He encouraged attendees to discover what’s inside of them in terms of interests, innate talents and skills.
“Life is about discovery. It’s about what’s inside you, and what you can do with it,” he said. “When I started at NASA, I can remember asking others there for technical journals and other materials that I could read to enhance my knowledge. One of my colleagues said to me, ‘we don’t read books, we write them.’”
It was then that Elliott began writing the first handbook on the Agena rocket.
It wasn’t long before he found himself working on the Gemini Project and continued on to the Apollo Program as an operations flight controller on console at Mission Control Center at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. And it would be the Apollo 13 project that would not only put astronauts James Lovell Jr., John Swigert and Fred Haise Jr. to the test, but the entire ground crew, including Elliott.
Elliott was lead retrofire officer for the Apollo 13 mission, which was to be a lunar landing mission. Due to a system failure, the mission was aborted on route to the moon when there was a loss of service module cryogenic oxygen and consequent loss of capability to generate electrical power, provide oxygen and produce water. The cause, he said, was the explosion of an oxygen tank that blew out one-quarter side of the service module, which housed and supplied all of the power, oxygen and propellant.
This resulted in a powering down of the command module, the place where the astronauts remained on the way to the moon. It was then that the lunar module was configured to supply the necessary power and other consumables for the crew to survive.
Elliott said to return the astronauts safely, a new return trajectory had to be calculated and that is where his education in physics, as well as his experience at NASA, came into play. Calculating that return trajectory was like threading a needle from 70 feet away, he said. “We had to be accurate.”
“Apollo 13 was a test of real leadership and how we took a potential tragedy and turned it into a success,” he said. “All of us had a conviction to ride Apollo 13 to the end. We never thought we couldn’t do it.’
Elliot also emphasized the importance of diversity in identifying solutions to issues wherever they may occur.
“We all think differently and diversity of thought is important,” he said. “A lot of how we think, how we approach challenges, is based on our culture, our religion, our education. My perspective as a Native American is different from others who are not Native American. We have a connection with all of life and are part of the sacred circle of life. We are no greater or lesser than the other creatures on Earth,” he said.
Elliott attributed his sense of dedication to the Apollo 13 mission to the determined spirit of his ancestors.
“The Cherokee people had the tenacity to persevere on the Trail of Tears and through other adversities,” he said. “I told myself then and still tell myself now, I have their blood and I can do this.”
He recounted his experience meeting Oscar Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, who starred in the “Apollo 13” movie and how he and others on that mission were asked for their comments about the movie.
“Apollo 13 was a marvelous achievement among seemingly unsurmountable odds,” Elliott said.
He later served as staff engineer on the Apollo/Soyuz Program, the world’s first joint Russian-American space mission and completed his lengthy NASA career supporting the Space Shuttle Program.
The former NASA scientist, engineer and project manager has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard M. Nixon for his Apollo 13role. Other awards include the Cherokee Medal of Honor and the Navajo Medal of Honor.
WISTER, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Sage Anson is one of 15 players who have been selected for the
11-and-Under USA Elite Select All American Midwest Regional Softball Team.
As an elite player, the left-handed pitcher and outfielder will compete with fast-pitch players from around the country when the inaugural USA Elite Softball Tournament takes place July 13-16 in Kissimmee, Florida.
“I’m most excited about going to Florida and getting to play against other regions and meeting my coaches, because they will be the Pride players that play professional softball,” Anson said.
She and other Elite Select players were notified during a May 26 selection show on usaeliteselect.com.
USA Elite Select began traveling the country in 2014 to scout for softball talent with 23 tryouts across eight regions. The competition consists of age divisions from 10-14, with 15 spots per age group, per region.
“I felt very excited and very happy that I was one out of a lot of girls that got picked,” Anson said. “It was unbelievable to me, out of all those girls at all those tryouts, that I was one that made it.”
As part of the Midwest region, she will be on a team of players from Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and parts of Missouri and Texas. She will also be provided two Midwest USA Elite Select jerseys for the tournament.
Anson tried out on March 14 at Savage Park in Tulsa, where a USA Elite Select Committee, the National Scouting Report and USSSA Pride players Megan Willis and Brigette Del Ponte evaluated her performance as a pitcher and outfielder. The National Scouting Report then evaluates players on a scale from one to five.
“You would go to batting, to pitching, then you would go to infield and outfield,” Anson said. “It was a simple process. It’s really nerve wracking, but it’s fun at the same time.”
Her decision to tryout for the team was originally not with the sole intention to be selected, her father, Kevin Anson, said.
“I had a friend of mine post on my Facebook page about the tryout, sort of a last minute thing,” he said. “We went more for experience than anything. We wanted to see what it was like going to a tryout like that, with the next level of players. We didn’t know where we were at and went to the tryout just hoping to do the best we could, and it ended up that she made it.”
The tryout was not only informative for Sage, but her parents too, who attended a seminar meant to help parents understand their roles in the sports careers of their players.
“It was mostly just how to be a good softball parent,” Kevin said. “Don’t push too hard. Encourage your kids to play hard and always keep in mind that about one in 5,000 get picked to go play college ball.”
Quay Matheny, who coaches Sage’s independent team, the Tulsa Elite, said left handers are particularly skilled if they can throw four different pitches at speeds up to 50 mph. She said she hopes Sage returns with more tools in her arsenal.
“I hope she goes down there and gets to meet different people, gets to learn new ways to play,” Matheny said. “Florida ball is a lot different than here in Oklahoma, so I hope she goes down there and has fun.”
Sage also thanked Stacey and Hunter Gibson, her pitching and batting coaches.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” she said.
Sage said she is inspired by USSSA Pride player Keilani Ricketts and former Olympian Monica Abbott and that she aspires to play college softball in Florida before moving on to playing professionally.
“I would like to meet some college scouts and have them tell me that they would be excited to have me when I get older,” Sage said. “That would really be an exciting moment, to know that they’re watching me.”
USA Elite Select is sponsored by Boombah and provides opportunities for fast-pitch softball players to showcase their skills at high levels of competition, gain resources to further their academic careers and serve their communities, according to the organization’s website.