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We are proud to celebrate 40 years!

The Cherokee community in North Carolina celebrates a high school championship win

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

While March Madness has commanded a lot of attention lately, there's a young team of Cherokee athletes in North Carolina still celebrating a big win. Here's Laura Hackett of member station BPR in Asheville with that story.

LAURA HACKETT, BYLINE: The whole community was watching when the Cherokee High School Lady Braves won the North Carolina high school girls state championship last month. It was a win not just for the team, but for the whole region.

ANN GARDNER: They don't just play for themselves. They play for all of those that are around them and all of those that have come before them.

HACKETT: That's head coach Ann Gardner. She says when the Lady Braves play, it's for a bigger purpose.

GARDNER: Just their love for their nation, the love for their tribe, the love for their elders.

HACKETT: The team represents the only high school on the Qualla boundary, the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Community members traveled hundreds of miles by bus to cheer on the players in the championship. Even high-profile athletes like NFL linebacker Ray Lewis cheered them on. Here's his video pep talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAY LEWIS: This is to the Cherokee Lady Braves. You're here, championship is now, and it's up to you to go claim it.

HACKETT: The Lady Braves delivered, handling the East Columbus Gators in a 74-to-32 victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Thirty two, and...

(CHEERING)

HACKETT: The moment, Gardner says, was electric.

GARDNER: And then, of course, we had that long bus ride back, and then the people lined the streets of Cherokee, and we all got off and did our championship walk, you know, our medals around her neck. So it was really heartwarming.

HACKETT: While the state title was on the line, the girls had another motivation. Gardner promised the team she would get a tattoo if they won.

GARDNER: One of my seniors is - she's like, I'm going to hook you up, coach. So we'll see.

HACKETT: Gardner's tattoo isn't the only homage of the big win. In Cherokee, handmade signs and posters hang all around town. Junior forward Kyla Moore says that even her favorite Mexican restaurant got a new paint job in the team's colors.

KYLA MOORE: I go there about twice a week. They painted their walls gold, and they painted the chairs maroon. It just reminds us that, oh, we actually accomplished this.

HACKETT: Freshman guard Daisee Fourkiller-Raby says the community is why they win.

DAISEE FOURKILLER-RABY: We really couldn't get a better supporting system other than Cherokee, if you ask me.

HACKETT: The Lady Braves hope their championship will inspire the next generation of Cherokee basketball players. For NPR News, I'm Laura Hackett in Asheville, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Laura Hackett
[Copyright 2024 BPR News]