When I was in high school I was a cheerleader. For every sport I could cheer for. Yes, me. My friends all cheered with me in 1989 for the girls basketball team where we went to school, including my best friend Andrea.
Our girls basketball team was awesome. The Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes. I don't remember the record, though I do know out of the whole season they lost only 4 games. We had to deal with things other schools didn't have to, mainly racism. Although other Indian schools didn't like us at all either and the neighboring reservation bombed our pep bus with rocks....injuring some kids. We was used to not being liked, our boys team had won the State Championship only 2 years before. I was a junior in 1989. SuAnne was a sophomore.
Everybody remembers something about SuAnne....I will tell you what I remember.
- She liked to sing offkey and loudly.....especially tv showtunes....and it always put the whole team and cheerleaders in a good mood. Try traveling across a boring state with 30-some teenage girls and you will appreciate this fact.
- She was an over-achiever in all she did, whether it was something she excelled at like sports....or something she wasn't good at like art...she was the ultimate perfectionist.
- In a powderpuff football game one time she scored all her teams touchdowns and tackled every member of the opposing team. It was supposed to be tag football and the reason I didn't play was because of the fact that I knew she was going to tackle.
- She broke a state record, that year...her sophomore year. She scored 67 points in one game. More than the other team scored altogether.
- She had 2 older sisters she was extrememly proud of and one nephew.
- She had an infectious funny laugh. Just her laugh can make you laugh.
- She had a dedicated mother, who appeared at every school event.
- She didn't ever drink or party. She never used drugs. This is rare growing up on a reservation where there is nothing for teens to do. She passionately was against it. I started "Dry Friday" when I was a junior. When I was out of High School she took over. We all got together and brought our own snacks and rented movies. The local Substance Abuse program provided the money for snacks movies and a place for us to chill out on Friday nights. I heard she added more activities to this after I was gone.
- She fought racism with humor...let me tell you how:
- The year was 1989...our high school was coming off of a buzz from the boys winning State in 1987. We was playing a tough team from Lead-Deadwood. (Yes the same Deadwood as in the HBO series) The game was tough, rough , and very competitive. In the bottome of the fourth quarter, actually in our first overtime SuAnne was at the free throw line, as she was always fouled on. We was down by one point. The other crowd started cheering deragatory remarks while she was trying to concentrate. They was calling her and all of us "squaws." Which is similar to calling a woman the "C" word. They was giving fake battle cries and warhooping. After her first shot swished through the net, she started an indian dance...to which we all laughed and cheered. She made the second shot and we won a very difficult game, with everyone booing us. After we got dressed and went out to our bus we noticed something. Someone had vandalized the bus. What had once said: PINE RIDGE THORPES had now had two of the letter stickers pulled off the charter bus. It now said: PINE RIDGE HOR ES. That was an instant downer. We all stood around depressed, while our coach called the cops. He was livid. A crowd had formed, due to the cop cars. All of a sudden, out of nowhere SuAnne yelled "Come on you whores, let's get on the bus!!" To which we all busted out laughing. As we climbed onto our bus she started a cheer..."If you're proud to be a whore clap your hands..." We all continued it in our sing-song way. The righteous parents standing around covered their kids' ears and scurried off. They can let their kids partake in racism, but not hear the word whore.
- We didn't have a whole lot of racism to deal with....most schools welcomed us. When we did SuAnne led us out of it with her humor and her laughter.
- We easily made it to the State Tournament that year. We fought hard all year for the number one rank and hardly ever was given credit for it. But we walked proudly into the city across the state with our heads held high and as number one seed. Even though most of us were too supersticious to think a number one seed was a good thing. We mostly thought number one was just a reason to get taken down.
- We had 7 rooms on the 7th floor of the hotel....good omen, we thought. We bought red crepes paper and put the letters in our windows. T H O R P E S. Of course we had to leave the light on and close the curtains to see this from the street. Every night on the way to the arena we proudly would glance at it.
- Our girls team won the first 2 games easily. We ended up in the championship game on a Saturday night. On the way to the arena that night, someone gasped. We then noticed our windows. The T had fallen and the people with the P in their window had forgotten to leave the light on. From the street it said: H O R E S. It was worth a small scatter of nervous laughter. Everything went by so fast, we didn't even realize what it meant to us. Just like the game. It was soo defensive. All I remember really is it was low scoring. At the end I remember we was tied...and we got the ball. SuAnne had run down the court with it, there was only seconds left. She threw up a wild shot from the freethrow line. It was hard and bounced back at her she caught her own rebound and wildly threw it up again. The buzzer went off, time was out. The whistle blew and the ref announced it as good. She shot before time ran out.
- WE WON!!! WE WON!! Us lowly cheerleaders, who cheered the girls on forgot there was such thing as a cheerleading competition and the poise that went with it. We all....ALL fans, cheerleaders, players, coaches, everybody danced in the middle of the floor. We was supposed to be waiting the the awards show, but this was huge. All night we screamed, jumped in the pool, got tossed in the pool, and laughed at the hotel. To this day I am surprised we did not get kicked out.
- The next day was weird, like any other day. Of course we was on the east side of the state and they did not like "West River Basketball" the same as we did not like "East River Ball." But we, or maybe I thought we would automatically be known as state champs. We did decorate our bus. But we was treated the same everywhere. Once we got on the westside we had to go through the neighboring reservation which had months earlier bombed our pep bus with rocks. We had police escorts and joked about taking cover. Instead we was in for a complete shock. The road there was lined with people from that reservation. They held signs up congratulating us and clapping for our team. We was shocked. Our enemy was proud of us...I don't know about any of the other girls but I was swallowing back tears.
- Somebody then said "I wonder how it is going to be back home?" Home, was still an hour away. About 20 miles out of our hometown....and right into the "rez" we seen them. Cars were lined on the side of Highway 18. They were all cheering, war hooping, clapping and had their cars painted. They proceeded to follow us home. SuAnne had the bright idea of opening the emergency latch on top and peeking out. The coach even let her hold the trophy up. All the cars honked. We all took turns peeking out and waving, it was awesome.
- When we pulled into our hometown, Pine Ridge we seen that the four way was closed off by the police. The four way, which did at the time have a stoplight...and was at the time the only stoplight had been closed off for all of us on the bus. As we descended we realized that everyone was there for us. I mean we knew it, but I think it hit us when we came out of the bus. There was an indian drum group in the middle playing a Sioux Honoring Song. We all round danced with all the people and then they led us into the Billy Mills Hall, which is our local town hall...named after an Olympic hero from the 60's. There we had a feast waiting for us. I don't remember eating it. I remember everyone crying with pride, making us sing the school song, and praising our girls team for the championship. I remember being proud of who I am.....yes being a Thorpe was proud....always. I remember feeling the pride of my people, of being proud that I was Oglala Lakota. And feeling like our prople were proud of that. They was proud of the youth whose future theirs depended on. I remember looking at them and realizing for the first time in my life I was proud of who I was and where I came from, and it had nothing to do with my school.
- The other thing I wanted to tell you of SuAnne and share about her was how good of a friend she was. In 1989 me and my boyfriend at the time was elected Homecoming King and Queen. (Incidentally and Coincindentally, he also happens to be the father of my sons.) I had no dress to wear, as my prom dress had been the dress from the junior year royalty. SuAnne let me use the dress she had bought in Hawaii. It was red and backless and beautiful. I won that night and she came up and gave me a hug and told me she was proud of me. That following spring she let me use the dress again for Senior pictures. The school paid for the Homecoming pictures because they hung them in the halls along withm the pictures of the graduates of that year. I called her from my boyfriends house and asked her to use the dress again. We was waiting for her to show up and then going to the studio to take our pictures. I heard dogs barking and then I seen her, in the early spring sun. She was holding the beautiful formal high and ignoring about a dozen stray dogs. You don't know reservation life until you witnessed the stray dogs that accumulate there. I wanted to laugh at her but I was so charmed by her actions I only said thanks.
The following year I moved to the nearest city to forget about my life on the "Rez." I had forgotten all the pride that had swelled within me only 2 years earlier. I worked and my boyfriend at the time had gone to college. I heard news from home, but immediately just wanted it all to be gone. I didn't care where I was from. I had heard SuAnne and my adopted brother Charlie had been crowned the new Homecoming royalty. I didn't congratulate them I only tried to forget my life back there. I was working in a Native American Arts and Crafts Gallery while all this was going on. I remember disinctly the night I heard it on the news. It was on the local news...it was February 9th, 1992. SuAnne was on her way to the South Dakota Miss Basketball ceremony. She had fallen asleep at the wheel and rolled the car with her and her mother in it. Later on, I heard she was waking her mom up and saying "I'm sorry, mom"
From the minute I heard of her death, I did not accept it. I didn't go to her funeral. I tried to stay away from the "Rez" blaming the "rez" for all that is wrong with my life. I had forgotten the pride that I once had thanks to SuAnne and about a dozen other girls the night we brought home the state trophy. I had forgotten all of it. I just merely ignored it all and chose to try and forget. About 2 years ago, our girls team was in the State championship game again. I watched it on TV with nostalgia. I fought back tears. Our girls lost it but SuAnne's little cousin Laura won "The Spirit of Su" award. A 4 color star quilt given to a single member of the tourney for good sportmanship. Her cousin cried and so did I. It was then I realized she was dead. She had been dead since the age of 17. The one person, who had scholarships to Division I schools and maybe would have had her dream come true and played in a professional league for women and deemed us all proud to be Thorpes, Native, Oglala Lakota, Women, had died at the age of 17. My friend whose death I denied for years. And why did I deny it?? She helped give me all the pride that was swelled inside of me when I was 17. And it took me over a decade to realize she was gone. SuAnne was a part of my life.....my youth...my pride, in myself. I am truly blessed to have been acquainted with her. When I go back to the high school and see my red dress picture hanging next to her red dress picture, I am proud, just like the day we came home...on top of the world.
In 1999 President Clinton awarded a grant to my reservation for the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club. This is SuAnne's dream come true. A place for youth on our reservation to go to and not worry about peer pressures. I visited the club in 2003 and realized then what an impact she had on us all, it just took me longer to accept her death. How can you accept death when that person was your hero? How can you accept death of someone so good? Her dream to be in a womens pro basketball league was never to be. I am sure the WNBA would have accepted her, but she never saw them. To learn more of my friend from my youth please click on her name. Anywhwere in this blog, you can click on her name. The last one is about her visions and her dreams,...which all sadly, in her death came true. To President Clinton, thank you for giving my reservation a place for my kids to go. I did come home after all these years...and I am still proud of what we all became. I am a proud parent of determined youth, who will carry on this pride. Thanks SuAnne and all the other champions of the past. Thorpe spirit never dies.