Sun Games

A few years back, I was in Eagar, Arizona, which is technically a suburb or Springerville (if you can think in terms that tiny). I was coaching a high-school track team and we had made the nasty four-hour drive (including going through the white-knuckle Salt River Canyon) to take part in one of the really cool track meets of the entire year: The Round Valley Dome Meet. Round Valley High School is in the White Mountains, where the locals used the tax revenue from a nearby Tucson Electric Power generating station to build an indoor football stadium. 

And yes, it’s exactly as cool as it sounds. (You should google it; it’s definitely the coolest football stadium in Arizona and it’s the only domed high-school football stadium in the entire United States.) They have a track meet indoors early in the spring season and it’s a madhouse. Fifty or so schools from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah competing at 7,000-foot elevation on a 200-meter track (so you have to run twice as many laps), indoors, where the starter’s pistol sounds like a bomb is going off. 

All of the events, including the shot put (using special rubberized shots) are indoors, with one exception. Because of the distances involved, the discus has to be done outside. One year, I had a boy on my team throw while snow was blowing horizontally into his face. I tried to explain the physics of throwing into the wind to him as he was throwing, but he was shivering a bit and wasn’t listening. He ended up breaking his PR (personal record) by nearly 20 feet.

Anyway, one of the girls on my team went on to win back-to-back state championships in the high jump. (I’ve actually coached four state high jump champions and anybody who has ever seen me will know that, while coaching, Lord knows I’m not demonstrating the technique myself.) 

The kid’s name was Amity, which means “good feelings” or “friendship.” But when I met her, the kid had just the foulest disposition, so I renamed her Hostility. And as such, she competed.

I told that story so I could tell this one. After the meet got over (Jackson had PR’ed and Hostility had her gold medal), we went to the Circle K to stock up for the drive back to Tucson. (There’s a sign by the Circle K that says that it’s 70 miles to Pie Town, New Mexico. Yes, Pie Town.)

While waiting for everybody to make their purchases, I filled up the van and then fiddled with the radio, trying to find something to listen to between Springerville and Globe. I found an AM station with a strong signal. Someone was talking, but it wasn’t in English. The speaker would go on in this language that was foreign to me, in an interesting cadence, so I kept listening. All of a sudden, I heard “Phoenix Suns,” then it was back to the language.

I finally realized that somebody was broadcasting the Suns game in Navajo, which was THE COOLEST THING EVER!

Through circumstance and happenstance, the broadcasts were eventually discontinued, but now they’re back and they are THE COOLEST THING EVER!

Entire books have been written about how basketball is a quasi-religion on reservations across the country and it’s no different for the Navajo Nation. Chinle High School plays its home basketball games in the 6,000-seat Wildcat Den and it sells out every night. There’s a similar arena in the Nation’s capital city of Window Rock. 

Broadcasting the Suns games in Navajo across the Nation is an absolutely perfect idea. Handling the duties is a two-woman crew, announcer L.A. Williams and color commentator Tanya McCabe. Williams does not do a traditional play-by-play account of the action. Rather, she weaves stories, giving Navajo nicknames to the players (Chris Paul is “Naat’áanii,” which can mean leader and older one; Devin Booker is “Báhózhóní” for his charm). 

She gives an overview of how the game is going and how the Suns are flowing. She’ll throw in the score every now and then, as well as a few English phrases. The other day, I heard “Navajo Nation” and I think I heard “double dribble.” 

Williams has been doing radio for a long time. She actually did some Suns games in Navajo back when Charles Barkley got the Suns to the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in 1993. She also calls a lot of high school games across the Nation.

In this day and age of information overload, you should try this. Go to KTNN on your laptop/computer and listen to the Navajo broadcast on Capital Country 96.1 FM while watching the game on TV. It’s an interesting experience.

And, one hopes, we’ll all learn how to say “Suns win!” in Navajo.

EXTRA POINTS: They say that it is better to be lucky than good, but it’s probably best to be lucky AND good. This was the situation for the Ironwood Ridge boys’ tennis team. The Arizona Interscholastic Association, through its decidedly finite wisdom, has two different types of state championships in tennis. There is the type where individual kids (and doubles teams) can compete in single-elimination tournaments and then there are the team playoffs, like those conducted in basketball and volleyball.

The Nighthawk boys finished the regular season ranked 10th in the always-awful AIA Power Points. They would have to travel to Flagstaff to face the seventh-ranked Eagles. With several close matches going the Nighthawks’ way, Ironwood Ridge escaped with a 5-3 victory. In the other part of their bracket, 15th-seed Notre Dame Prep pulled the upset of the tournament, beating second-seeded Williams Field. That meant that the second-round matchup would be between a 10 seed and a 15 seed, allowing higher-seeded Ironwood Ridge to host. 

After another excruciatingly tight match, Ironwood Ridge came out with a 5-4 win to advance to the Final Four. They would lose to Estrella Foothills, which, in turn, would lose to top-seeded Catalina Foothills in the championship.

Congratulations to Ironwood Ridge for their unexpected and impressive run to the Final Four.

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