A’AGA: Something to be told

By Billy Allen


A highlight for older GRICsters in Sepijig Masad, or Gleaning Month, is the World Series.

In our time, every summer holiday or feast celebration had a baseball and or softball game.


Prior generations learned and played the game at school and O’otham and Piipaash culture was changed.


You can still see the old baseball/softball diamonds where our “boys and girls of summer” played around the communities. The fields aren’t as old as the Huhugam ballcourts, but revered just as much.


How did Natives get so wrapped up in “America’s pastime?”


In 1819 Congress established a “Civilization Fund” to help religious schools provide an education for Natives, but it wasn’t very successful. At the end of the Civil War, the Indian Peace Commission wanted Natives to enter mainstream America.


The gun would be replaced with a book.


Sacaton had a boarding school in 1881 which sent promising students onto Carlisle (of Jim Thorpe and Lewis Tewanima fame) and Hampton which was mainly an African-American school but some Natives did attend too.  


GRIC students were sent to learn a trade and a basic education at industrial training schools in Albuquerque and Nebraska.


Americans, or milghan, recognized the O’otham and Piipaash farmer-warriors’ friendliness to all travelers within our lands. They also saw our desire for education.


When Phoenix Indian School opened in 1891 the first class had thirty-one O’otham and ten Piipaash boys. The O’otham staff was teacher Hugh Patton, assisted by two older boys Charles Blackwater and Oldham Easchief.


Competition was seen as a way to build character and physical well-being, so within a couple of years Phoenix Indian School had football and baseball clubs. By the 1930’s, Phoenix Indian had an all Native coaching staff for all the major sports.


When Phoenix Indian students returned to their communities, they took the new sports home with them.


In the mid 1960’s, my sister played softball and I remember attending games with my entire family.


One of the better fastball pitchers was Wilma Marrietta. Her son, Robert Thurman, recalls his mother playing with the Phoenix Reds and Conquistadors, traveling with the latter to an ASA tournament in Las Vegas.


He remembers weekends at San Carlos, Parker, Yuma, Tohono O’odham and Salt River for softball tournaments. Elders who remember his mother tell him his mother could “throw that softball!”   Another relative remembers Wilma loved the game so much, she played during her pregnancy. That’s a gamer!


Vera Marrietta grew up in Stotonic, home of the Rebelettes and recalls watching Wilma rule the diamond.


All of the districts had at least one team, some had two or three with team names and colors that continued for many years. Names such the Chargers, Falcons, Reds, Roadrunners, Cardinals and many others echo in our memories.


Since a lot of the girls went to boarding school, softball wrapped up before September. Salt River held a “standing room only” tournament at this time.


Another GRIC elder recalled at least eleven softball teams playing a set schedule. Entire families would go, prepared with food and drink to spend the whole day. The Sacaton fields had trees, picnic tables just north of the canal and most important—lights.


Vera Marrietta and a tribal elder recall a similar memory of how important the game was to our communities.


At the old Bapchule dirt field, with one inning left, the sun went down. The umpire told the coaches he couldn’t see the ball very well and wanted to stop the game. One of the coaches announced to the families that the game was going to be stopped due to darkness.


Quiet disappointment set in, then coaches and players heard car engines rev up as cars were driven out beyond the outfield and with their headlights turned on so the game could be finished. Gamers!


Allow us elders to watch the World Series, after all we bat (and occasionally walk) in two worlds.


Information was taken from The Phoenix Indian School, Forced Assimilation in Arizona, 1891-1935 by Robert Trennert, Jr.; To Show What an Indian Can Do by John Bloom and personal interviews.


Rita Ventura, set highest point average per game for a high school girl in 1976 with 26.2. Ranked 12 on all time list. Rita is a Tohono O’odham who had the record in 1975, 22.5. 45 against Apache Junction, tied for 14th on list. 671 points in 1975-76 season, ranked 20th after 36 years.


Also there was a girls softball league in Casa Grande, with the pitcher by the name of Eula Enos. Sacaton had a team in this league.


In 1976, according to Arizona Prep Magazine, Special Bicentennial Issue, these were athletes of the year at their schools;


Florenda Peters, Maricopa VB, Bsk, Soft


Rita Ventura, Phoenix Indian VB, Bsk, Track


Magie Lopez, St. Johns VB, Bsk, Soft


The first Miss Pima title-holder was Wilma Marrietta. The name was later changed to Miss Gila River to better represent our entire community. A Gila River Royalty website offers background on the pageant.