In youth work, we often talk about the importance of positive role models in the lives of children. We also know that it can be difficult to fully understand the impact such a role model can have — until you hear a story that drives it home. Meet Chant Life.

When Chant was in elementary school, his family moved from Philadelphia to the Pueblo of Zuni, his mother’s community. He immediately engaged with his home, learning the language and life ways so he could, as he put it, “learn how to be a good Zuni person.”

He also wanted to pursue his passion for football. That, unfortunately, was a dream that seemed out of reach.

Chant has a ventriculoperitoneal shunt. This thin plastic tube helps drain extra cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions the brain and spinal cord; VP shunting is required when too much fluid causes extra pressure on the brain.

“I’ve had it since I was a baby,” he says. “It means I can’t do contact sports.”

When Chant was a sophomore, Zuni High School got a new football coach. A Puyallup tribal member from Tacoma, Washington, Joe Claunch held a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies, a master’s in education, and a doctorate in sport and exercise psychology. He was dedicated to serving Native American youth in every possible way.

“Chant wanted to play varsity football more than anything,” remembers Joe, who is now ZYEP’s executive director. “Because of health reasons, he was not able to pursue his dream of playing on the field, but the football team was so important to him.”

Joe encouraged Chant to be involved in a different way. The teen joined the high school’s football program after all, as a student-coach.

“Claunch was really an eye-opener,” Chant recalls. “He’s a great motivational speaker; he really thrives on that. He said if I couldn’t play, there were other ways to be involved if I just put my mind to it. I realized I could learn a lot from him.”

“Chant was the person who carried our flag into games, and he was the heart of our team,” Joe says. “He continues to coach for Zuni High, and he is sharing his passion for the game with the younger generations as well.”

“I started coaching right after my high school graduation in 2021,” Chant explains. “Then one day I went into Starbucks, and Claunch was there. He told me about ZYEP’s flag football league and said I could be a big part of it. He gave me this great opportunity.”

Chant coached two divisions of youth during ZYEP’s flag football season in fall 2021 — 10 young children and 10 older youth. He says the older kids presented the greater challenge.

“Little kids will go anywhere and do anything,” he reflects with a laugh. “The older kids are harder. They don’t always want to push themselves, so you have to push and motivate them to be the best they can be.

“It was a great experience,” he continues. “They were shy kids, but they really liked the sport, learned a lot, and progressed quickly. It’s so important to teach them how to work and play as a team. They’re valuable lessons.”

Chant says he hopes to continue coaching long-term. Joe observes that the Zuni community will be better for it.

“We get to work with a lot of incredible young people at ZYEP,” Joe says. “I don’t think I’ve met anyone who loves football and their community more than Chant Life.”