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Courtney Cooper

Even though our Wheels UP! Photo Contest has ended, that doesn't mean the traveling and being active should too.

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Passing It On

Reprinted from SNS November 2017

SPORTS `N SPOKES' 2015 Junior Athlete of the Year Noah Hotchkiss is showing young Native Americans with disabilities a path to independence through his wheelchair basketball camps

On Native American reservations across the country, basketball is a big deal. Some kids see it as a ticket off the reservation; many more see it as a badly needed activity to relieve boredom in communities that can be small, isolated and without a lot of entertainment options.

For young, Native Americans with disabilities, basketball could be much more important, says Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss of Colorado, who is from the Southern Ute, Southern Cheyenne and Caddo tribes. Hotchkiss, 19, is currently a freshman on the wheelchair basketball team at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, one of the most celebrated college wheelchair basketball programs in the country.

But he’ll soon be back out West as his schedule allows, running small wheelchair basketball camps on reservations across the Southwest. Hotchkiss has run the camps with his dad, Jason, for a couple of years, hoping to help more Native American kids discover the sport and where it could take them.

A Natural Fit

Indian reservations may seem isolated from the larger American culture in general — but that isolation can be magnified for those with a disability, Hotchkiss says. Resources that are scant for nearly everyone on many reservations are even more so for those with a disability. And the American Indian culture doesn’t necessarily foster independence for people with disabilities, he says.

“On the reservation, if one of your family members gets injured, we would take care of them,” Hotchkiss says during a recent interview between practices at Illinois. “Families … tend to really let them stay in their house, stay in their room, try to take care of them. It’s good, but it’s not helping them be as independent as they could be.” 

Hotchkiss, who was SPORTS 'N SPOKES’ 2015 Junior Athlete of the Year, was always active. He played soccer and basketball before a 2009 car accident when he was 11 that resulted in a spinal-cord injury, left two younger siblings seriously injured and took the life of his stepmother, Cassandra Yazzie-Hotchkiss. 

After the accident, Hotchkiss became a strong adaptive skier, but soon he was introduced to wheelchair basketball through the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colo.

Finding other players was tough, however. And traveling around the Southwest for games, Hotchkiss noticed that children on the reservations could use some help. Few had access to good equipment, and hardly anyone was organizing games or teaching the sport.

So, his camps were born. 

“We were just hoping they’d kind of get an idea of what’s out there, show them there’s wheelchair sports they can play,” he says. 

And using basketball to get Native American kids with disabilities to be more active was natural, because the sport’s already ingrained in the reservation culture, says Noah’s father, Jason Hotchkiss. 

“In Indian Country, it’s all about basketball. Everybody plays ball, everybody understands ball,” says Jason. “There’s gyms everywhere, and people are supportive.”

Noah applied for and received a $10,000 grant from the Billy Mills Running Strong for Native American Youth Dreamstarter program. Disabled Sports USA also kicked in a large donation, meaning Noah and his dad could carry their mission to a wider swath of Indian Country and could even help provide transportation for some campers. The camps are free for participants.

Noah and Jason logged hundreds of miles the first year, putting on three camps in New Mexico and one in Arizona.

“There’s this giant dead spot between Salt Lake, Dallas and Phoenix — there’s nothing [in the way of adaptive sports] in there,” Jason says. “There’s close to a million tribal members in that triangle.” 


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Passing It On


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