At least 10 Indigenous high school athletes have received the Gatorade Player of the Year award, a prestigious honor bestowed on only the most elite athletes.
In years past, there have been 8 other Native students that have received the award. Some of these Indigenous athletes credit their heritage and culture as instilling the work ethic required to earn such a high honor.
States with Indigenous Gatorade Players of the Year
The Indigenous athletes who have won the Gatorade Player of the Year award are spread throughout the United States.
That said, Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, and Idaho are among some states home to the newly recognized Gatorade Players of the Year.
Still, Hawaii leads the way, with 6 Indigenous athletes winning the award in basketball, football, softball, soccer, track, and volleyball.
Who can Win the Gatorade Player of the Year Award
The Gatorade Player of the Year award was initially created in 1985. Further, the award is meant to honor high school athletes and recognize them as the best in the country.
However, the honor doesn’t solely identify outstanding athletic performances; a student’s academic achievements are equally important.
According to the Gatorade Player of the Year award website, the honor is presented for “outstanding athletic excellence” and “high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character.”
Some of the Indigenous Gatorade Players of the Year
Given the exclusivity tied to the Gatorade Player of the Year award, it carries significant meaning to those talented enough to earn it. The recent Indigenous athletes who received the accolade note that their Indigenous roots played a considerable role in their athletic and academic achievement.
One Gatorade Player of the Year winner is Stewart Erhart [Athabascan], a basketball player from Tanana, Alaska. Erhart notes that his Native culture helps him excel both on and off the court because of his family’s values.
“The connection to my Native culture helps me to remain strong,” Erhart says. Additionally, the talented basketball player notes that he relies heavily on his family, “Native foods, and Native songs and dance for strength.”
As one can imagine, it took plenty of hard work on Erhart’s end to achieve his most recent accolade. And the young man hopes his success inspires other young Indigenous athletes to continue pursuing their dreams.
To Erhart’s head coach, Coltin Growden, the accolade “gives young kids from his village someone to look up to.”
One of the 6 athletes from Hawaii to earn the Gatorade Player of the Year award is Devin Kahahawai, a gifted volleyball player of Native Hawaiian descent.
Kahahawai says that the feeling and idea of family helped her achieve athletic and academic success. One of the core values in Hawaiian culture is Ohana, or family.
“When I am out competing on the court, I truly believe that the 5 girls around me are my sisters and that the team we are representing is our family,” Kahahawai notes.
Titus Yearout, one of Idaho’s most talented basketball players in history, attests that his Nez Perce Native American heritage gives him a sense of pride.
Further, Yearout says that being Native “puts a chip on my shoulder to prove to people that Natives can pursue anything they want with hard work and faith.”
On top of that, the gifted hooper credits practicing Native traditions as something that “teaches core values that translate to sports.”
One softball player who won the Gatorade Player of the Year award, Tenly Grisham, attests her tribe, the Band of Choctaw Indians, motivates her.
That said, the Mississippi softball player says that representing her tribe is one of her most prominent motivation factors. “I am a direct representation of my tribe, so when I practice and play, I put in 110%,” Grisham says.
Like other Native athletes, Grisham has always felt like she’s had a chip on her shoulder, which only encourages her to reach her goals. “…the Native community has to work twice as hard as most simply because nothing is handed to us,” Grisham attests.
Another aspect that pushes Grisham to continue succeeding is that she is now an inspiration to other young Native girls in sports. “I want to be an inspiration to Choctaw girls. I just feel like when one of our tribal members succeeds, our whole tribe succeeds,” Grisham notes.
Cross country runner Kutoven Stevens, a member of the Yerington Paiute tribe in Nevada, uses his athletic gifts to draw attention to prominent issues in the Native American community.
Stevens founded the Remembrance Run, a 50-mile run to honor his great-grandfather and the thousands of other Indigenous people who were forced into Indian boarding schools.
The run stretches from Carson City, Nevada, to Yerington Paiute Reservation. The run follows his great-grandfather’s exact route at age 8 as he ran away from school to be reunited with his family.
Indigenous families have been affected by Indian boarding schools for several generations. And Stevens uses something he loves (and is incredibly talented at) to recognize this hardship his ancestors endured.
Generating Change in the Indigenous Community
The fact that there are a growing number of Indigenous athletes receiving prestigious awards like the Gatorade Player of the Year award creates so much potential in the community.
First, these athletes, although still young, set an example for younger Indigenous athletes, showing that hard work pays off in the long run.
Second, success in the Native American community allows athletes to represent their culture and heritage. By doing so, non-Natives become more aware of the historical hardships the Indigenous community has had to endure to simply exist today.
Lastly, when Indigenous athletes succeed, it’s looked at as a win for the entire tribe, as they are given more positive recognition.