Mar 15, 2015 - Winnebago Indians Basketball Team Are Living Legends, by Emmy Scott

At the March 11 pep rally the day before the first State game, Travis Morgan, Former TV Sports Broadcaster, gave a pep talk. “You are not good enough…You are a small town team that plays small time ball. This is what they think of you…Prove them wrong!”

Going into the Nebraska State Tournament, the Winnebago Indians were ranked #5 in Class C-1 by The Omaha World-Herald. Winnebago was commonly referred to by the mainstream media as a “Cinderella story” and the “Dark Horse” of the division.

Wahoo, the first team that Winnebago gave a lesson on “rez ball” to in the State tournament, was noticeably winded going into the 4th quarter. This is how Winnebago plays. If an opposing team can keep up within the first 5 minutes of the game, they may have a chance against Winnebago. However, after those 5 minutes, the other team had better hold on for dear life.

Remember when Isaiah Medina popped off 3 three-pointers in a row against Wahoo? Remember David Wingett’s slam-dunk that was heard round the world?

These are stories that will be told for years to come in the Winnebago Indian community. The last time Winnebago made it to State was in 1994. The last time Winnebago won a State Championship was 74 years ago in 1940 with star players: Ruben Whitebeaver, Jack Wolf and Eugene St. Cyr. Many of the current team are descendants of that 1940 championship team including Drake Gorrin and Cedrick Blackdeer, who are great-great grandsons of Ruben Whitebeaver. The youth that make up the Winnebago Indian team embody the spirit of the Winnebago people.

Cory Cleveland is fearless; he consistently drives the ball hard against anything that stands in his way of the hoop. Cleveland plays for his father, who watched the championship game from a hospital room following months of health complications. The cheering during the pre-state pep rally as Cleveland spoke, showed the depth of support from the Winnebago community for one of their own acknowledging Cleveland’s inner strength.

Matthew Wingett is a leader, unleashing the force of Winnebago with his three-point shots within the first few minutes to start the games. Matthew and his brother, David Wingett, have consistently overwhelmed opposing teams.

Basketball, Native people know, is a full on community affair. The Winnebago Tribe gave tribal employees the day off both Thursday and Friday so that they could attend these State games. After seeing the crowds that Winnebago brings with them on the road, Winnebago’s first state game was scheduled in the Devaney Sports Center where college games are played as opposed to a high school gymnasium. Being in the Winnebago crowd during games is an experience all its own. The team says that their fans yell at them if they slow down and don’t push the ball down the court fast. When the other team scores a point, Winnebago is already down on the other side of the court. They are always looking for the long pass.

When Grand Island started to close in on the initial 17-point lead during Winnebago’s second state game, Winnebago fans were in danger of forgetting to breathe. “We…We believe…We believe that…We believe that we…We believe that we will win! The chant rose in those final moments to verbalize what was felt in their very bones: Winnebago was going to the championship.

…And go we did. Isaiah Medina and Matthew Wingett, seniors, within minutes were pounding in shot after shot against #2 ranked SCOTUS in the championship game. After that, there was no stopping their momentum.

The Winnebago Tribe’s name for themselves is Hochunk, which means “People of the Big Voice.” That “voice” was heard loud and clear on that basketball court today, leaving no questions about the effectiveness of rez ball. We are above labels, racism, and questionable calls. Winnebago Indians 2015 basketball team will go down in history; they are living legends.

Last Real Indians