Native American basketball players in Wyoming are happy with their mask mandate: NPR
Native American basketball players in Wyoming are happy with their mask mandate: NPR

Native American basketball players in Wyoming are happy with their mask mandate: NPR

The Wyoming Indian Boys basketball team gathers before heading out to face Greybull Buffalo.

Taylar Stagner / Wyoming Public Radio


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Taylar Stagner / Wyoming Public Radio


The Wyoming Indian Boys basketball team gathers before heading out to face Greybull Buffalo.

Taylar Stagner / Wyoming Public Radio

Student athletes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming are grateful that mask mandates are not disappearing there, even as they continue to fall away across the country. They feel the mandate has helped keep them healthy and competitive as other schools across the state have had to cancel games due to covid infections.

At a recent basketball night at Wyoming Indian High School in the reservation city of Ethete, the speaker introduces the hometown of Chiefs in a mix of English and Arapaho.

The gym is usually packed, but this year the amount has been reduced due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, has had a mask mandate since the beginning of the pandemic. This is unusual in Wyoming, a conservative state where COVID-19 restrictions are not popular.

Chiefs team captain Videl C’Bearing, a senior, says being able to play ball has really helped him get through the pandemic.

“You need physical activity to help you get your mind in order. And that’s what I think about basketball, that’s therapy. Like when I’m angry, or whatever it is, my first thought is: ‘Man, I have to shoot around somewhere,’ he says.

Wyoming Indian Basketball Coach Craig Ferris graduated from the school in 1995, played college basketball and returned to train at his old high school. He has been a coach here for 18 years.

He is a fan of the mask mandate.

“We have heard of a couple of teams that have canceled matches over the weekend because they have had no real mask mandate but have positive things in their school and they have pretty much had to shut the whole team down,” he says .

COVID-19 protocols on the Wind River are the strictest in all of Wyoming

The tribes say the vaccination rate of the reservation is around 70-80%. Wyoming as a whole is at 50%one of the lowest in the United States Ferris says a majority of student athletes in Wyoming Indian are vaccinated and they are also tested every 10 days.

“It has allowed us to actually complete a season without canceling any matches. And I know we have been short players here and there, but we have not had to cancel any matches,” he says.

Masks are not required during matches, but the girls basketball team here has kept theirs on during the competition throughout the pandemic.

“As far as I know, they’re the only ones still wearing them while competing,” said Ron Laird, commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association.

The Indian girls team from Wyoming has won the last three state basketball championships in a row and could again this year in a few weeks.

Laird says COVID-19 protocols vary across Wyoming, but they are strictest on the Wind River.

Northern Arapaho President Jordan Dresser says relaxing COVID protocols elsewhere in the state is one of the reasons they maintain the mask mandate on the reservation.

“A few weeks ago we had the rise from Omicron. And you know, we reached pretty high numbers like six, 700 people who tested positive, but we only had one hospitalization,” he says.

Dresser says the reservation’s mask mandate is not going anywhere.

“Unfortunately, as soon as you step down, the reservation when you get the people who are the majority is not vaccinated. So I just see in theory the mask mandate, something that is good for a while,” he says.

COVID-19 has made the last few seasons challenging, but has not changed captain Videl C’Bearing’s goals for the future.

“One of my dreams is to play college basketball, that’s what I really want, you know I can hopefully go somewhere and play. And just come back here and pretty much do what my coaches do,” he says. he.

The tribes on the Wind River also lowered the building occupancy, required schools to provide virtual learning so students could stay home from school, and demanded that anyone working with children on the Wind River be vaccinated.

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