by Faith Price, Director of Native American Student Services


One hundred Native middle and high school students traveled to WSU from as far away as Portland, Oregon and Nooksack, Washington to take part in the annual Native American Youth Sports Summit sponsored by WSU Native American Programs and WSU Athletics.

sports summit panelists
Outreach Coordinator Tony Brave introducing Sports Summit panelists (l-r): Valea Higheagle, Austin Kicking Woman, Aaron Burns, Kevin Night Pipe, and Josh Echo-Hawk.

Participants heard from a panel of three WSU Native student athletes and two Native professionals with careers in sports media. Student panelists included Aaron Burns (Fort Mojave Indian Tribe), Club Volleyball; Valea Higheagle (Chehalis/Nez Perce), Twirling; and Austin Kicking Woman (Yakama), Intramural Basketball). WSU Football Video Coordinator Kevin Night Pipe (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) and keynote speaker Josh Echo-Hawk (Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma) shared insight into makings sports a career.

Valea Higheagle juggles three batons.
WSU senior Valea Higheagle gives a twirling exhibition during halftime of the WSU vs. OSU women’s basketball “Native American Appreciation Day” game.

Student panelists explained how to stay involved in sports at many different levels in college. Valea Higheagle is the university’s only twirler and performs at WSU football games. She receives a partial scholarship and a stipend to travel with the Cougar Marching Band to cheer on the football team wherever they might go, including their recent appearance in the Alamo Bowl.

Aaron Burns plays on the WSU men’s club volleyball team. Club sports teams travel to compete against other colleges in the region. Athletes don’t get scholarships to be on club teams, and the teams fundraise to pay for their travel. However, it is fairly competitive and usually students have to tryout to get on a club team.

Austin Kicking Woman shared about his experiences playing intramural sports. Any WSU student can play intramurals, and it is a fun way to gather up a team of  friends to play against other WSU students. Intramural sports are organized by the university recreation center and they have leagues for basketball, soccer, flag football, softball, dodgeball and more.

Keynote speaker Josh Echo-Hawk owns his own business as a media producer and creates videos and graphics for college and professional teams. On the day of the Native Youth Sports Summit, he was in town to do some work with the WSU women’s basketball team. He encouraged students to explore their talents and try on many possible careers. All of the panelists encouraged students to bring their whole selves into whatever career they choose, and to be proud of their Native heritage.

Following the Sports Summit, participants attended the Native American Appreciation Day game between WSU women’s basketball and Oregon State. The game featured a welcome from WSU Native student organization leaders, videos of WSU Native seniors, and a halftime twirling performance by Valea Higheagle.

While the basketball team fell short of beating OSU, they received appreciation from Native Youth Sports Summit participants at a special ice cream session after the game. The WSU women’s basketball team and their coaches shared ice cream with the group and thanked them for coming out to cheer them on. They also graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures.

The Native Youth Sports Summit coincides with the Native American Appreciation Day basketball game every year. It is open to 6th-12th graders and is free to students and their family members.

group photo of youth and basketball players
Sports Summit participants pose with the three Molina sisters from the WSU women’s basketball team after the game.