Wind River Reservation COVID-19 protocols keep student-athletes in class and on the court
Wind River Reservation COVID-19 protocols keep student-athletes in class and on the court

Wind River Reservation COVID-19 protocols keep student-athletes in class and on the court

This is a home basketball match in Ethete in early February. Wyoming Indian Chiefs vs. Greybull Buffalo. The speaker uses Arapaho words to call the game.

The stands are less crowded this year due to COVID-19 protocols, and masks are required inside the building.

Wyoming Indian senior Videl C’Bearing is the team captain. He said that throughout the pandemic, basketball has kept him physically and mentally fit.

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

C’Bearing’s coach is Craig Ferris. He graduated from Wyoming Indian in 1995 and has been a coach here for the past 18 years.

Ferris said the last few years of the pandemic have shown him how resilient his student-athletes are.

“I think the mask mandates in the school, the school board and the administration according to the tribe’s health policies, it’s a great policy. It has allowed us to actually complete a season without canceling any matches,” Ferris said. “And I know we’ve been short players here and there, but we have not had to cancel any matches.”

On the Wind River Reservation, masking and testing of athletes is the norm in some of the schools, even when other schools in the state withdraw from COVID protocols. Ferris said student-athletes in Wyoming Indian are tested every 10 days, and a majority of them are vaccinated.

“I know we’ve heard of a couple of teams that canceled matches over the weekend because they did not have a real mask mandate but have positive things in their school and they have pretty much had to shut the whole team down, said Ferris.

When visiting teams come to play, they are told that the staff, the team and any spectators must wear masks, otherwise they will not have access to the gym.

And while student-athletes are allowed to take off their masks while playing, Wyoming Indian girls’ basketball teams have consistently worn masks during their matches for the past two years.

Ron Laird is the commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association. He said schools are responsible for how they handle COVID.

“As far as I know, they’re the only ones still wearing them while competing,” he said.

Laird also talked about how the pandemic has shown how important school activities are to students and their communities. He added that keeping children in school and participating in sports makes them better students.

“And it’s everything from kids who participate, have higher GPAs, they have lower absenteeism, their self-esteem is much higher than those who don’t,” he said.

Other public health protocols on the Wind River Reserve in addition to masking are lowering building occupancy, requiring schools to provide virtual learning so students can stay home, as well as vaccinating anyone working with children on the Wind River.

Wyoming Indian retains a 50 percent capacity for games, and St. Stephens, another school in the reserve, closes concessions for the season to keep people in masks. Matt Mortimore is the sporting director there.

“Because of course they just sit there and eat a piece of popcorn a minute throughout the game,” he said.

He says he eventually sees things get back to normal, but is happy to see schools in the Wind River reservation continue to protect the community and keep students healthy enough to play.

“Kids are pretty robust. They’ve made the adjustments pretty well. When a kid is in quarantine, you know, it’s never fun to miss a game or miss something,” Mortimore said.

C’Bearing said his coaches have inspired him.

“One of my dreams is to play college basketball. That’s what I really want. Hopefully I can go somewhere and play and just come back here and pretty much do what my coaches do,” C’Bearing said.

His team has won the last 5 out of 6 matches last week and the girls team is watching their 4th State Championship in a row this year. Conference basketball tournaments will be held in late February in Riverton.

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