Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 4    May, 2011

Bronx producer back with story of Native American hoops star
Condensed by Native Village


Nelson Hernandez is 33 and assistant/video coordinator for the Utah State men's basketball team. He also produced the documentary, "Off the Rez," the story of the Schimmel family who left Oregon's Umatilla Reservation to face new challenges.

Shoni Schimmel has just finished a brilliant freshman season at Louisville. She was named First Team Freshman All-American by Full Court Press.}

Three years ago, Shoni Schimmel was a high-school junior and one of the best basketball players in the nation. She played for the local high school. Then Shoni's mother, Ceci Moses, took a job coaching a high school team in Portland.  Against the wishes of her own mother and grandmother on Umatilla, Ceci brought Shoni and her seven other children with her.

"Off the Rez" follows mother and daughter as they fight to prove that Native women can become champions off the Rez. It also shows how four generations of strong Umatilla women struggled together to preserve their traditions with the unforgiving world of big-time American high school basketball.

"Off the Rez" producer Nelson Hernandez began his own journey to this film 10 years ago. The Bronx native had left NYC to spend a weekend on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska.  It was his first trip to a reservation of any kind. During his visit, Nelson was taken by the tribe's love for basketball and the immediate bond he felt with the people.

It was there, 2,000 miles from New York, that he came to a life-altering decision.

"Before I die, I'm going to do something to help young Native American basketball players in some way, big or small," the Bronx man said to himself.

It wasn't long before Hernandez quit his job at the Gap in New York City and moved to Utah. He mission was to help young Native American basketball players.

"No matter how many reservations you go to, no matter how bad it is, there is always a hoop, there is always a gym and there are always people there," Hernandez said.

The more tribes he visited, the greater the basketball passion ... and the greater the heartbreak. Opportunities were few. Promising athletes often took to alcohol and drugs rather than college.

So Hernandez became acquainted with some of the best Native American basketball stars. They created what he termed "a traveling, low-budget Harlem Globetrotters."

For five years, they visited reservations, held basketball clinics and offered encouragement and hope. But Hernandez didn't feel as if he was making a difference.

Then he met Shoni Schimmel and her family. When he listened to Shoni's story and saw her play, Nelson realized a film could tell the story and help in the way he wanted it to.

That story is told in "Off the Rez," which was featured at this year's Tribeca Film Festival in NYC.

"I'm hoping," Hernandez said, "it opens people's eyes to give more Native American athletes a shot."

For the record, Shoni has just finished a brilliant freshman season at Louisville and was named First Team Freshman All-American by Full Court Press.}

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