ZUNI, NM (June 6, 2022) — On Friday, May 13, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project concluded its most popular Youth Sport program of the year: the spring basketball league. Two hundred 7- to 12-year-olds on 20 teams with 44 community coaches participated in the eight-week 2022 season, which was made possible with support from the Nike N7 Fund, New Mexico Department of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Zuni Public School District.

ZYEP separated the children into the Shiwi division for 7- to 9-year-olds and the Zuni division for 10- to 12-year-olds, with 20 teams overall. The divisions practiced every Monday through Thursday at Shiwi Ts’ana Elementary School and Zuni Middle School, respectively, with Friday game nights at Zuni High School.

Although organizers planned to end the season with a tournament, Director of Development Tahlia Natachu said they intentionally removed it from the calendar due to the uneven parity across the teams.

“While all of our players are incredible and bring their own strengths to their teams, we know that balanced skill levels and positive, fair experiences are important for our youth so they enjoy the sport,” she explained. “Our goal is to help them develop lifelong values such as teamwork, wellness, and a sense of belonging.”

Natachu noted that she and her fellow organizers will develop a new plan to address this issue for the 2023 season. In the meantime, she said the ZYEP team was very pleased with the results of this season.

“Our amazing coaches made this season possible,” she said. “Their mentorship, passion, and care for their players rose above any hiccups. We are so grateful for them, and I know the players and their families are too.”

Prior to the start of the season, coaches participated in an all-day training that promoted wellness, positivity, culture, and fun. ZYEP staff members provided education on mental health, implementing the Zuni language, and building and nurturing positive relationships.

Angel Yatsayte was one of those coaches. She has been coaching for 23 years in multiple sports, and she’s been with ZYEP since the beginning of the Youth Sport programs. She said she enjoys coaching Zuni youth because not only does it encourage them to be physically active, it also brings out the talents of each child.

“I’ve always believed that each kid is unique in their own special way,” she said. “Coaching and getting to know these kids certainly brings joy to my life.”

In addition to teaching the basics of the sport, Yatsayte said she also teaches teamwork and good sportsmanship, and she works closely with the children to build confidence and endurance.

“I’ve always taught them to believe in themselves,” she explained. “My greatest accomplishment has been to see my former players become college athletes, coaches, and ZYEP staff members, like Tahlia Natachu.”

In addition to the coaches, ZYEP’s Food Sovereignty team also was on hand throughout the basketball season. They provided healthy snacks after each game, they hosted a “water challenge” to the players that encouraged them to drink 64 ounces of water each day, and they offered nutrition education, games, and prizes at the Friday night games.

ZYEP’s basketball league drew children of all skill levels. Twelve-year-old Jerrick Lewis has been playing basketball with ZYEP for three years.

“It’s my favorite sport,” he said. “I like to play.”

For 10-year-old Lyla Martinez, the 2022 basketball season was her first. She said she didn’t like basketball prior to the season, but her father encouraged her.

“Now I actually like it,” she said. “Basketball is fun now. So far, I’ve been in ZYEP theater, soccer, and basketball. My family likes when I join, and when I have fun.”

Like Martinez, 11-year-old Kairon Scott plays in ZYEP’s other sport leagues. He has played basketball for two years.

“ZYEP basketball is really fun,” he said. “I did cross country and flag football, too.”

Parents and guardians also were pleased with this year’s league. Ninety-eight percent reported that their children had fun participating in the season, with more than 95 percent noting that their children’s self-confidence, physical activity, and overall health. What’s more, 98 percent said their children gained positive role models and made new friends.

“(This) program does an outstanding job to promote fitness and health,” one parent reported in a program survey. “My child loved every single part of it.”

Others noted the positive influence the ZYEP Youth Sport programs have on the entire family.

“My child  really encouraged us to drink water only, which was great,” another parent wrote. “Keep up all the good work you are doing. You all provide positivity (for) our youth.”

Through its Youth Sport initiative, ZYEP connects with more than 500 local youth annually. In addition to basketball, young people also are able to take advantage of seasonal leagues in soccer, flag football, and cross country. More importantly, they have access to mentorship through ZYEP’s staff and coaches, camaraderie with teammates throughout the leagues, and powerful community spirit.

To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit zyep.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), and YouTube (/ZuniYouth).

Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.