This reservation is subject to Wyoming’s strictest COVID-19 rules. Student-athletes are happy

Student-athletes at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming are grateful that mask mandates aren’t going away there, even as they continue to fall across the country. They feel like the tenure has helped them stay healthy and competitive as other schools in the state have had to cancel games due to covid infections.

At a recent basketball night at Wyoming Indian High School in the reservation town of Ethete, the announcer features the hometown chiefs in a mix of English and Arapaho.

The gymnasium is usually packed, but this year, due to COVID-19 protocols, crowds have been reduced.

The Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, has had a mask mandate since the start of the pandemic. That’s unusual in Wyoming, a conservative state where COVID-19 restrictions aren’t popular.

Chiefs team captain Videl C’Bearing, a senior, says being able to play ball has really helped him through the pandemic.

“You need physical activity to help keep your mind clear. And that’s what I think of basketball, it’s therapy. Like when I’m angry, or whatever, my first thought is, ‘Man, I’m gonna go shoot somewhere,’ he said.

Wyoming Indian basketball coach Craig Ferris graduated from high school in 1995, played college basketball, and returned to coach at his old high school. He has been coaching here for 18 years.

He is a fan of the mask mandate.

“We’ve heard of a few teams that canceled games over the weekend because they didn’t have a real mask mandate, but have positives at their school and they basically had to shut down the whole team. “, he says.

COVID-19 protocols on the Wind River are the strictest in Wyoming

The tribes say the reservation’s vaccination rate is around 70-80%. Wyoming as a whole is at 50%, one of the lowest in the United States. Ferris says a majority of Wyoming Indian student athletes are vaccinated and also tested every 10 days.

“It allowed us to finish a season without canceling any games. And I know we’ve been shorthanded here and there, but we haven’t had to cancel any games,” he said.

Masks aren’t required during games, but the women’s basketball team here has kept theirs on during competition throughout the pandemic.

“To my knowledge, they are the only ones who still wear them while competing,” says Ron Laird, commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association.

India’s Wyoming women’s team has won the last three state basketball championships in a row and could do so again this year in a few weeks.

Laird says COVID-19 protocols vary across Wyoming, but they’re the strictest on the Wind River.

North Arapaho Chairman Jordan Dresser said lax COVID protocols in other places in the state is one of the reasons they are keeping the mask mandate on the reservation.

“A few weeks ago we had the Omicron push. And you know, we got to pretty high numbers like six, 700 people tested positive, but we only had one hospitalization,” says -he.

Dresser says the reservation’s mask mandate isn’t going anywhere.

“Unfortunately, as soon as we go down, the reserve is when we get the people who are in the majority vaccinated. So I just see, in theory, the compulsory mask, something that is good for a while,” he says. .

COVID-19 has made the past two seasons difficult but hasn’t changed captain Videl C’Bearing’s goals going forward.

“One of my dreams is to play college basketball, that’s what I really want, you know, hopefully I can go somewhere and play. And come back here and pretty much do what my coaches,” he said.

Wind River Tribes have also reduced building occupancy, required schools to offer virtual learning to keep students home, and required anyone working with children on Wind River to get vaccinated.

Copyright 2022 Wyoming Public Radio

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