“Fightin’ Indians”

ESPAÑOLA, NM, December 15 — Tensions were high last semester at the Northern New Mexico College and Haskell Indian Nations University men’s basketball game. Throughout the course of the game, players from both sides racked up over five technical fouls. Ryan Cordova, Northern New Mexico’s athletic director, said that by the second half, a loose ball was enough to set the players into a full-fledged fight according to an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Ted Breidenthal, commissioner for the Association of Independent Institutions, qualified this event as the worst he’d seen in his 13 years working for this conference. He did, however, commend some of Haskell’s athletes and coaches for their behavior in trying to stop the fight. Haskell players 22, 32, and 40; Aspen LaPointe, Albert Dean, and Robert Beaulieu were recognized for being on the court during the fight and not participating.

The game ended with 8 minutes and 15 seconds left. The clock stopped as players left the bench to join their teammates. The scuffle necessitated police escorts for Haskell’s safety to leave campus however, no police report was filed says the Santa Fe New Mexican. A video of the fallout was reviewed by the A.I.I. which set strict penalties for the teams. 

I was disappointed with how the Northern New Mexico team, both coaches and students, handled the situation said Breidenthal. A total of 11 players from the Northern New Mexico Eagles were suspended. Three of the players were suspended for the remainder of the season, three more suspended for five games, and five were suspended for leaving the bench during the fight which required a one-game suspension.

While reviewing the tape, Breidenthal noted that one North New Mexico player tried to throw a punch at Matthew Downing Jr., Haskell’s head coach and another of their players knocked Macaulay Brown, the assistant coach, to the ground. Both coaches were trying to stop the fight.

Haskell’s own “Fightin’ Indians” got their share of penalties too, thirteen in total. Number 11, Gino Torres was suspended for the remainder of the season; numbers 2 and 3, Robert Wesley and Tristan Keah-Tigh were suspended for 5 games; no. 5, Edward Chambers, was suspended for two games; no. 10, Bryon Elledge, was ejected from the game for two technical fouls and suspended for one game; and players 1, 4, 12, 14, 15, 20, 21, and 23, Elias Her Many Horses, Antwon Winn, Justin Curley, Kobey O’Rourke, Rueben LaSarge, Jordan Goodwill, and Xavier Littlehead, left the bench during the fight and were suspended for one game. Player no. 14 for Haskell was also reported as leaving the bench but did not show up on the roster. 

A joint statement was released by the head coaches from both Haskell and Northern New Mexico with a subsequent statement by the Presidents of the Universities. These statements do not condone the actions of their players and address policy changes and procedures to ensure proper behavior in similar situations. When asked more about these policies Haskell’s Athletic Director Gary Tanner said that Coach Downing was doing a great job with the players, meeting all the requirements of both the A.I.I. conference and Haskell. He was also noted as utilizing this experience as more than just punishment but a tool for training. 

Initially the A.I.I. required Haskell to forfeit their next two games. That was later rescinded, but by that time arrangements with the other teams could not be undone. After forfeiting two games, Haskell’s first game back was going to be a home court rematch against Northern New Mexico College — a show of sportsmanship.

Both teams were no less than professional when they came head to head again on January 3. Tanner described the atmosphere of that game as really good on both sides, but neither team wanted to lose.  The game was close with Haskell edging out the Eagles in a 61-60 victory. In not winning, the Eagles showed great poise said Tanner.

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