Mother, Daughter Prove Themselves 'Off The Rez'

Originally published on May 14, 2011 10:00 am

Saturday's TLC documentary, Off the Rez, is a coming-of-age story: a drama about generations, sports, sweat, winning, losing, sacrifice, triumph and love. It's a lot to get through in 86 minutes.

Jonathan Hock's film follows the rise of Native American high school basketball star Shoni Schimmel. Her mother, Cecilee Moses, is also her coach. They moved off the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon and headed to Portland to maximize Schimmel's chances of success at a new school.

And succeed she did. In 2010, Schimmel was selected to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American Team and recruited by the University of Louisville Cardinals. She just finished her freshman year — averaging 16 points a game.

Back in Portland, Moses still coaches Schimmel's old team, the Franklin High School Quakers. She tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon she knew her daughter had talent from the first basketball tournament — when Schimmel was just 4 years old.

"I swear to God, that's the first time I knew something," she says. "This girl was gifted, because they went in, and they went to the championship, and they stomped on Shoni — I mean, they didn't beat them bad, but they beat her. And for her, that was so devastating."

"Ever since then, I've seen that fire in that girl's eyes," Moses says, "She lost, but I'm not kidding you, ever since then, she's had that drive to just become better."

Schimmel says it's hard to describe what she loves about the game. "Just having the ball in my hand, and being able to just go out there and have fun," she says. "I just love playing basketball."

The family's move off the reservation wasn't just for Schimmel; Moses wanted to prove she could coach. There was another goal, too.

"It was also a move where I could teach not just my kids, but other Native Americans that are doing the right things, to get where they want to get," Moses says. "You can get your dreams, and you can have dreams, and you can pursue your dreams."

That kind of pressure isn't lost on Schimmel, but she says she doesn't let it get to her. "I mean, I'm just playing basketball and going to school like a normal kid," she says. "Doing what I love doesn't really come with pressure."

Being a role model for other Native Americans is important to Schimmel, though. Not many of them make it off the reservation, she says, and it's up to her to take advantage of the opportunities she's been given. "I do it definitely for my family, but also the other Native American people."

As a mother, Moses says, coaching your kids is fun, but there are rules. She made a deal: "This is a job; we're going to be professional. I'm the coach; you're the player. If you want to become unprofessional and turn into the son or the daughter role, then the mother comes out and that's not pretty."

It seems to be a good deal all around; come fall, Moses will be sending a second daughter to Louisville. Schimmel's sister Jude will be the next to prove that Native Americans can succeed "off the rez."

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TLC: Now, at one point her team, the Franklin High School Quakers, fall behind in the first half of a big game. Coach Moses tells the team, including her daughter, this...

CECILEE MOSES: Franklin Quakers Women's Basketball Team: Believe.

: Shoni Schimmel has just finished her freshman year at the University of Louisville. Her mother, Cecilee Moses, still coaches at Franklin. They both join us from Palatine Recordings in Portland, Oregon. Thanks very much for being with us.

MOSES: Thank you.

SHONI SCHIMMEL: Thanks.

: Cecilee Moses, when did you first see your daughter, Shoni, pick up a basketball?

MOSES: Well, she started playing basketball when she was about four years old and that's when she had her first basketball tournament. And I kind of - that was the moment I...

: Basketball tournament when she's four?

MOSES: And she lost but, I'm not kidding you, ever since then she's had that drive to just become better.

: Shoni Schimmel, what do you love about basketball?

SCHIMMEL: Just being able to be out and playing basketball. I just can't really describe it. Just having the ball in my hand, being able just to go out there and have fun, just play with my other teammates, like Sam and whatnot. I just love playing basketball.

: Why did you think it was necessary, Cecilee Moses, for you and Shoni and her younger sister - also a great basketball player - Jude, to move off the rez and go to Portland?

MOSES: I personally felt like it was not just a move for just me to prove that I could coach but it was also a move where I could teach not just to my kids but other Native Americans that are doing the right things to get where they want to get, but you know what, you can live your dreams and you can have dreams and you can pursue your dreams.

: Shoni Schimmel, you are, well, you're becoming a very well-known athlete. Do you feel pressure to succeed - not just for you but for your family, and if I might even put it this way, for your people?

SCHIMMEL: And so, I mean, doing what I love doesn't really come with pressure, just going out there and playing basketball.

: May I point out, most normal kids don't wind up on the freshman All America team as you have.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Do you even know, by the way, how many points you averaged every game?

SCHIMMEL: This season?

: Yeah.

SCHIMMEL: I couldn't tell you off the top of my head.

: Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Sixteen. You're great. And almost six assists per game. You're very good.

SCHIMMEL: Thank you, thank you.

: So, what's it's like to be coach and mother?

MOSES: Being coach and mother, it's really fun. I always talk to my kids about everything practically in life. And when it came to coaching and being the parent, you know, I would just flip it and say, you know, here's the deal: this is a job; we're going to be professional. I'm the coach; you're the player. If you want to become unprofessional and turn into the son or the daughter role then the mother comes out and that's not pretty. So, you choose.

: Ooh, ooh, ooh, coach.

MOSES: Yeah, yeah. So, I would basically put it in their hands, my kids' hands, to basically keep it professional.

: You're sending two daughters back to Louisville come the fall. Jude is going to join Shoni.

MOSES: Yes, she is.

: Schimmel sisters might leave quite an impact on women's college basketball before they're done.

MOSES: That would be nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MOSES: I hope, you know, honestly, of course we don't think of it that way but I hope not just, you know, for Shoni and Jude to experience that but I hope they get that opportunity because I think it will do a world of good to other Native Americans on the reservation.

: Yeah. Shoni Schimmel, what's it's like to have a sister on the team?

SCHIMMEL: It's awesome. I mean, me and Jude have been playing together since her third-grade year and my fifth-grade year. So, having that right-hand man always there for you, to always have your back, to always catch your passes, top always make that extra shot that you need and that you can't make, that she's there for me - she's my right-hand man. She's my go-to person every time on the court. If I can't do something, I know she'll get it done and I'll have her back just like she had mine.

: Shoni Schimmel just finished her freshman year at the University of Louisville. Her mother, Cecilee Moses, the women's basketball coach at Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon. A film about their family, "Off the Rez," airs on TLC tonight. Thank you both very much for being with us.

MOSES: And thank you for asking us to talk.

SCHIMMEL: Thank you for having us.

: And you can watch Shoni Schimmel in action. We got clips from that documentary on our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.