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A Warrior’s Game

Duane Noriyuki is a staff writer for Life & Style

The students have gone home and the fragile April sun has dropped behind a jagged, snowcapped horizon on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana. Jonson and Kyle Running Crane, cousins, wander into the high school gym and climb into the upper deck to get a better look at three men playing catch with a ball the size of a large cantaloupe.

Six-year-old Kyle tugs at a piece of green gum. No, he says, he has never seen this game. Seven-year-old Jonson nods his head in agreement. They watch the men run up and down the court, leaping high and hurling the white ball into a goal about twice as large as the one used in hockey.

Dan Foster stops play, picks up a ball and clutches it firmly in both hands, their knuckles scarred. “The ball is precious,” he tells the players. “Always take care of the ball.” For Foster this is something of a mantra that reflects not just the game’s strategy but a larger philosophy.

Foster, an Oklahoma Cherokee, is director of mental health at Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning, a town of 1,170 people. He and his wife, Becky Crawford-Foster, also a psychologist, and their three children have lived on the reservation for two years. When addressing his players, he walks up to them or asks that they move in closer. He chooses his words carefully, often pausing between sentences. He doesn’t blow a whistle. He never shouts.

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If you were choosing sides for a pickup basketball game, you would want Foster on your team. Although he is 46 years old and his ponytail is graying, he still has the spring and build of an athlete. Six feet two and 225 pounds, he has only put on 20 pounds since college. Off the court, he smiles easily; he has a natural gift for putting people at ease. On the court, though, he is grim-faced and tenacious, moving swiftly with powerful strides when open, battling hard in a crowd of swarming bodies.

There is a similar dichotomy within this game, team handball. “It’s part roughness, part finesse,” Foster says, explaining why he was drawn to the sport in 1971 while serving in the Army. He was training as a wrestler, attempting to qualify for the Pan American Games, and after practice he would drift over to watch friends play team handball. They invited him to do drills, and he found himself drawn to the contact, the calculated brick-wall picks that can knock the air out of an opponent, as well as the grace, catching the ball on a dead run, leaping straight up and hanging weightless in the air, waiting for the precise moment to cleanly fire off a shot.

Popular in Europe (and increasingly in Asia and South America), team handball is played over two 30-minute halves with six players and a goalie on a court somewhat larger than that for basketball. The object is to throw the ball into the goal and prevent the opponent from doing the same. More contact is allowed and required than in basketball. It is water polo without water.

Just before leaving the military, Foster was invited to compete with an all-Army team at the national team handball tournament. He caught the attention of the U.S. team and was invited to train for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, but a month before the Games, he brokea bone in his foot and ended up serving as an alternate. For 11 years, Foster played on the U.S. team, competing in such countries as France, Germany and Argentina. In 1994, John EagleDay, a member of the Bannock tribe in Idaho, asked if he would coach team handball for the Native American Sports Council.

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The sports council had been a dream of EagleDay’s for 15 years. A former college football and rugby player, he worked eight years counseling Native American community college students in Washington state and developed youth leadership programs that incorporated ancient native games. He was searching, he says, for a way to integrate traditional Native American games into the contemporary world of sports. He envisions the council having two functions: to develop Native American athletes for Olympic competition and to train coaches to conduct community sports programs. In doing so, he hopes to revivify the spiritual role sports played in native cultures.

By January, 1993, he had put together a board of directors (including Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and 1964 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, among others) and had raised enough money so that he could approach the U.S. Olympic Committee with a proposal. “What I said, I don’t recall. I believe the spirit was moving,” he says. “I believe it was a time and place . . . to come to an understanding that the sovereign tribes of this continent have been excluded for too long in allowing their communities to have access in an official way to the opportunities that could be provided through the Olympic Committee.”

A year later, the committee voted unanimously to welcome the new organization, establishing it as the only voting member representing an ethnic group. Over the last two years, the council has sponsored camps in distance running, archery, wrestling and baseball. It also supports individual athletes in other sports, but it is through team handball--selected partly because council officials saw components of traditional Native American games--that it has found its greatest success.

Last year, the council recruited 30 Native American athletes--primarily basketball players--for a weeklong team handball camp. None of the recruits had ever played the game. The best players were called back for four more days of practice before traveling to Atlanta to compete in the nationals, where amateur clubs, collegiate and military teams engage in a fierce three-day tournament. To the shock of handball veterans, the NASC Sports Warriors won the Division II gold medal, defeating Air Force Academy in the title game. Even in such a fledgling sport, this was a miraculous accomplishment.

“There was a point in the final minutes of the championship game where I looked at that team, and they were all as one,” says Mike Cavanaugh, executive director of the U.S. Team Handball Federation. “They were moving on defense exactly like you want a team to move. You can work months on trying to develop that and not even come close.”

One member of the team, Mike Jones, who was working as a truck driver at the time, was chosen for the U.S. national program, which scouts the tournament for talent. Of the 30 athletes on the national team, 16 are chosen for the Olympics. Cavanaugh, who is on the selection committee, had Jones ranked 12th. A knee injury and disciplinary problems for missing practices, however, resulted in his suspension from the program last December.

Jones will return to the Sports Warriors as an assistant coach, but Foster knows that without his dominant play, others will have to step up this year. There will be a handful of returning players from last year, but most will be novices. The athletes in the Browning gym this day have never seen team handball. Foster, who also plays on the team, runs the Browning players through a series of drills. Since there are too few to scrimmage, they must learn the game in bits and pieces. It is the equivalent of learning basketball by shooting free-throw shots. They practice passing the ball against a wall to get a feel for its size and texture. They shoot from each corner. They run up and down the court, passing the ball back and forth.

In a matter of days, Foster will take five players from the reservation to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where they will practice for a week with other Native American athletes in preparation for the national championships in Oklahoma City.

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“They will do fine,” he says. “Of course, that’s a prayer.”

On the Blackfeet reservation, it is the time of ice melting from rivers. Small pockets of old snow drip slowly into the earth along north-facing shadows. Trumpeter swans float epically, heads held high, on swale ponds. Soon the geese will pass on homeward journeys, and first thunder will roar upon the high plains.

April’s warmth comes as a blessing, for winters here are long and harsh. In 1884, hundreds of people died. The last of the buffalo had been killed in the Sweet Grass Hills, and the Blackfeet, made wards of the U.S. government, were allowed to starve. Many were buried on a barren crest that came to be known as Ghost Ridge. Others were left in the brush near Badger Creek, and when spring came, the bodies fell on top of one another and were swept away by water.

There’s a tale of how, one day that winter, a bear came through camp. The animals, too, were starving, and the bear was chasing wolves. The people followed it to the top of a nearby hill, where the bear transformed suddenly into a rock, ending the starvation winter. Only about 1,400 of the Montana Blackfeet, known as the Pikuni or Piegan tribe, remained. Some still pray and make offerings to the rock shaped like a bear.

Today, unemployment on the reservation approaches 60%. Only 30% of those employed earn more than $7000 a year. The high school dropout rate is 42%. Alcohol continues to entice and numb and create its own Ghost Ridge. (Throughout the country, in areas served by Indian Health Services, the mortality rate caused by alcoholism was 447% higher than for the general population during 1990-92. Accidents were 168% greater, suicide 42% and homicide 34%.)

It is impossible to underestimate the emphasis on high school sports on the reservation. On the hardwood stage in Browning, thousands of people gather to cheer for the Running Indians basketball team. Before the school was required to travel great distances to compete, caravans of fans would follow them to games in nearby towns, while others listened to radio coverage. In cross country, no Montana school in modern history has dominated a sport the way Browning has. Between 1971 and 1992, the boys’ team won 17 state titles, including 11 in a row. During that same period, the girls’ team won eight state titles.

The boys’ basketball team takes the home court wearing war bonnets. Runners braid eagle feathers into their hair for important races; football players paint their faces. High school sports is a fleeting moment of honor, a chance for courage and cheers, a level playing field when there are few others. No matter how much is wrong with your life, you have this moment in the sun. For many, though, it is followed by darkness.

“All the cross country champions, where are they?” asks local educator Darrell Kipp. “Why aren’t they on the Olympic team? Why didn’t they make it to college?” Kipp, who has a master’s degree in education from Harvard, runs the Piegan Institute, which develops schools in which only native languages are spoken. Born on the reservation, he has observed the rise and fall of Native American athletes for years.

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“If you take people and you beat out of them their language and their sense of being an Indian, and you take everything valuable that they feel as Indians and rip it out of them, then what do you have?” asks Kipp, staring out the window of his office in downtown Browning. “You have a brown body left with nothing in it, and it’s standing over there on the corner sucking on a wine bottle. We become people unable to hope. There’s a reality here and it’s a very blunt one. It’s right across the street.”

Across a potholed intersection from Kipp’s office is Ick’s Place, where the regulars huddle in back around a bottle. Among them is Carlin No Runner. His name belies his ability. No Runner, 29, ran on four state high school cross country championship teams, then went on to compete at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., before returning home. He still loves to run, loves the feeling of movement, the rhythm of his feet upon the ground. Sometimes he takes off over the knuckles and knolls of prairie between Browning and his home seven miles away.

And sometimes he dances at pow-wows, losing himself in the pounding of the drums and his heart, the rhythm of his feet upon the ground. He thinks about his dream, mostly forgotten now, of running in the Olympics. His eyes move slowly as he looks up. “Maybe,” he says, “I can still do it.”

In the still-quiet late April dawn of boulder park in Colorado Springs, on land once inhabited by the Utes, Dan Foster stands in a circle with 20 Native American athletes. The previous day, at the airport in Great Falls, Mont., a security guard demanded to search his bag, which contained a pipe and other sacred items that are not to be touched except when offered in prayer.

Foster pleaded with the guard not to handle them, to put the bag through the X-ray machine instead. The guard, unlike those at every other airport Foster has traveled through, would not oblige. He dug through the bag and, in doing so, contaminated it. For Foster, who has endured the piercings of the Sun Dance on his chest and back, it was as if the guard had ripped out the pages of a family Bible that had been handed down for hundreds of years.

As the players stand together in the park, John EagleDay begins speaking about the Ghost Dance. Prior to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, representatives of many tribes gathered in Nevada to pray for the return of all that had been swept away. One man, Buffalo Short Bull of the Dakota tribe, had a vision that as people gathered in the circle, they should grasp hands by interlocking their fingers.

“In this way, you may want to let go, but I’m not going to let you,” EagleDay continues. “It is a symbol of the determination at the dance to never let go of each other. Let’s put our hands together. Interlock your fingers.” The players grasp hands. “This circle is too strong now. It can never be separated. . . . This is going to be our victory, our determination never to let go.”

In addition to Foster, the players in the circle include:

Shel McLain, 25, of Colbert, Wash. Foster saw him play in a basketball tournament in Browning two years ago and invited him to the camp. While playing professional basketball in Germany this year, he saw a team handball game on television. This gives him more background in the game than some of his fellow players.

Francis LaPlant, 18, of Browning. As a junior, LaPlant played basketball at Lodge Grass High School on the Crow reservation, where there is a mighty tradition that has produced legendary players like Elvis Old Bull and Jonathan Takes Enemy. Earlier this year, LaPlant was one of eight Montana players chosen to compete in a national prep tournament in Phoenix, Ariz. He currently lives with his aunt and uncle outside of Browning; his mother is two years into her recovery from alcoholism. His stepfather, a man he idolized, was stabbed to death three years ago. LaPlant’s dream is to play college basketball.

Ronnie Ledesma, 21, of San Jose. His mother is Italian, a gynecologist. His father is Native American, a cop. Ledesma was a starting guard last season at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He has never faced discrimination, he says, because most people don’t know his ethnicity. “I get asked a lot if I’m Filipino.”

Mike Marquez, 19, of Fresno. He was supposed to be on last year’s team, but he was shot in a drive-by. When he arrived at the hospital, he showed no vital signs. There must be a reason, he says, why life was taken away, then given back. That wasn’t the case for Cody Berry, a participant in last year’s program, who was murdered last December.

Dale Johnson, 27, of San Jose. At 6-2, 245 pounds with a ponytail flowing down his back, he was the heart of last year’s team. He was introduced to the sport by Darin Williams, an assistant coach and starting goalkeeper. Williams met Johnson while refereeing a basketball tournament: he tossed Johnson out of the game for unruly behavior. Williams, who runs the NASC team handball program in Fresno, was impressed by Johnson’s tenacity and asked him to give the game a try. In his life, Johnson has overcome alcohol, the suicide of a brother and a two-year prison term for assault. He plays a key inside position called circle runner.

EagleDay ends his story of the Ghost Dance. A player offers a prayer and then Foster, in a crystal voice, sings a Lakota song that says to look for the coming of the spotted eagle, a helper who will protect them.

In their first practice, it is difficult to see how this team can come together in a week. Balls slip through hands, passes soar high and wide and end up in the bleachers. Movements are not fluid, and footing is uncertain. Foster, though, remains undaunted about how far the team has to go. The players must learn not only the rules, techniques and strategies of the game, but gain a sense of unity and purpose as well.

In the past, EagleDay was concerned that Foster was “a little too Zen.” But Foster is convinced that the most important quality he can convey as a coach is a “love of the game,” and the way to do that is to relate the sport to the players’ lives. “I want you to really concentrate on the ball handling when you’re tired,” he tells the team during a break. “There are going to be moments like at a Sun Dance or some arduous ceremony, where you think you’re not going to make it. You’re going to make it, you’re going to be fine.”

Later, at a team meeting, he describes the camp’s larger purpose: ‘Each of us represents the tragedy, the challenges, the opportunities, the difficulties, the joy and sorrow of our communities. By the end of this week, you’re going to know one another as handball athletes, but more than that you’ll know each other as Indians. Winning and losing take care of themselves if we take care of ourselves, if we walk in a balanced way and take care of each other.”

Practices are twice daily. By the middle of the week, the team’s improvement is marked. They are beginning to understand Foster’s dictum that “the ball is precious.” Of all the metaphors Foster employs, the image of the ball is central. It must be protected and cared for. For Foster, the ball represents many things: On a poetic level, it speaks to a sense of balance and proportion, but on a practical level the team that controls the ball usually wins. As the week progresses, the passes are more crisp, the shots more accurate. Catches are being made on the run and movement occurs with purpose. The players are learning patience.

Ideally, players would have been brought in for several of these camps, and the team would have competed in tournaments before the national championships in Oklahoma City, now days away. The problem, however, is funding. It is difficult to find corporate sponsorship for a group and game few people know about. Although the council is trying to establish a base of tribal, private and USOC funding, so far most of its annual budget of about $100,000 a year has come from the council’s chairman, Gene Keluche, who has poured $300,000 of his own money into the program. This year, the council allocated $20,000 for team handball.

Shortly after arriving in Colorado Springs, EagleDay tells the staff there isn’t enough money to take the entire team to Oklahoma City. When Dale Johnson is sidelined by a knee injury, he decides to return home. He says it would be too difficult to watch the team without being able to play, but he also knows it will cost the program $30 a day for him to stay and even more to travel to Oklahoma City. Foster, though, is convinced the squad needs Johnson even if he doesn’t play. He is the squad’s most spirited player. EagleDay, though, concerned that Johnson needs to see a doctor, allows him to leave.

The chaos begins at the Oklahoma City Airport. In order to save money, some of the players have been assigned to a Days Inn, while the rest of the team will stay at the Marriott, the tournament headquarters. An assistant coach threatens to leave if the matter isn’t cleared up. EagleDay, who was in charge of the arrangements, has not arrived, and so coaches and players decide to crowd together in rooms at the Marriott rather than be split apart.

Arriving at midnight, EagleDay is furious that some players are sleeping on floors. He also is upset to find some of the assistant coaches still awake, seated in the bar drinking soft drinks and watching a big screen television. When EagleDay chastises the staff, another assistant coach threatens to leave.

The following morning, it is discovered that tournament officials have not received the players’ registration forms and fees. As the players gather in the hotel lobby to catch a bus to their first game, they have to fill out forms. Some do not have the $25 fee, which EagleDay provides.

Only after the team arrives at the state fairgrounds, where the competition is being held, do the players regain focus. They gather outside the building near a locust tree, and EagleDay prepares an altar upon the ground. He kneels, faces east and rolls sage into a ball with the palms of his hands as the players stand around him in a circle. He places the sage in a rock bowl and ignites it with flint, fanning the sparks with an eagle feather given to him many years ago at a Sun Dance. He offers smoke to the four directions, to Mother Earth and Father Sky. Foster sings a song of prayer as EagleDay carries the sage in a clockwise direction to each player so they can lave themselves in smoke. When the smudging is complete, the players move forward and tighten their circle.

“We’re serving our people,” EagleDay tells them. “We’re helping our people get healthy. With the strength we put out there today, we show them what’s in our hearts.”

The first of the day’s three games is against Knight Magic, made up of crisp-cut former members of the U.S. Military Academy team. This is their eighth year of playing together. Ronnie Ledesma scores the first goal, hurling the ball hard into the left corner of the net. Shel McLain, though, comes limping off the court with a twisted ankle. He will say nothing, but it will remain painful throughout the tournament.

NASC mounts a 5-1 advantage before Knight Magic ties it at 6-6, then 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 11-11 and finally 12-12 with 10 minutes left. In the final moments, Knight Magic moves ahead and wins 16-14. As the NASC team gathers after the game, the loss heaves more frustration on top of discord.

Foster senses that after all the work to unify them in Colorado, the team has become disjointed. He tries to speak above the whistles and shouts: “Earlier this week, with all the hugs, I talked a little about love, the love between warriors for each other. We have lost the game, and if we lose every game--it’s not that I don’t care, I don’t like to get beat--but I can live with losing...I want us to be brothers, warriors together through thick and thin.”

Across the court, Capt. Vic Lindenmeyer of Knight Magic knows that his team was fortunate to win. He sees what the NASC players have lost sight of in defeat. “For them to come to this tournament last year and place with such little time to prepare, that’s unheard of in this sport. It shows great potential. Most people here have dedicated themselves for years to become great players at this sport.”

There is more chaos in the second game. Foster is unaware of a scheduling change, which has moved the starting time up. Some players have not arrived when the game against the Colorado Pioneers begins. Colorado has players from Norway, Yugoslavia, Russia, Czechoslovakia and Germany and placed four players on the current national team. But then something happens. In basketball, it is known as “Indian ball,” the fast-paced, improvisational, at times reckless version of run and gun. The Sports Warriors open up a fastbreak offense. They pass long, attack, hang in the air and find their rhythm. The missing players arrive and enter the game without disrupting the flow. NASC defeats Colorado, 20-19. The momentum carries into their next game, a 25-19 victory over the Oklahoma Force.

Knight Magic, the Pioneers and the NASC Sports Warriors end the day with 2-1 records. Only two teams from each pool can be slotted into the Division I competition; because NASC won its games by the fewest points, they will play in Division II tournament. Foster has mixed feelings. While it would be a step up for the team to be included in the more competitive Division I, he is uncertain whether it is ready for that level of competition.

The next day, they defeat an all-star team of Alabama players and beat a national team of deaf players. The two wins move the Sports Warriors into the gold-medal game against the New York City Handball Club. Some members of the New York team have been together 15 years. All but one immigrated to the United States from Europe, where they learned the game. It will be a test of experience versus youth.

The final day, and more chaos. As the team loosens up, Ronnie Ledesma, one of the leading scorers in the tournament, has not shown up. Players say he wasn’t in his room all night. EagleDay is on a cellular phone trying to track down Ledesma. Two other players were out past midnight. Throughout the tournament, some on the squad have complained about their playing time; others think Foster should be on the sidelines coaching more than on the court playing.

“We’ve come through a long journey,” Foster tells the team before the game. “There have been tough times, but we are tough people. This is our chance to win gold. . . I want a strong heart, a lot of confidence.”

Ledesma comes running into the building just as the game begins. He says he spent the night with a friend. NASC takes a 5-1 lead, but the New Yorkers maintain their poise and make no wasted effort as they move into the lead. The Sports Warriors stay close but cannot catch up. Midway through the second half, New York goalie Konrad Juszkiewicz blocks a one-on-one penalty shot. He lifts his right forefinger into the air, then throws his hand down hard, ending the swing with a clenched fist.

NASC becomes frustrated. Their shots have no fire, their feet seem heavy. Last year, with each score against them, they grew stronger, more determined. Players on the sidelines stood rather than sat, shouting encouragement not criticism. This year is different. New York wins 21-14. NASC gets the silver.

Their frustration culminates in disappointment. Foster, who is exhausted, feels he has let the team down as both player and coach. There can be glory in defeat, bravery in standing unified, he says, but this has not been the case. Foster accepts the blame: “I will no longer be the head coach of this national team,” he tells them. “I’ll support you any way I can, but I won’t be playing with you fellows again. I’ve seen mature men pouting. I’ve seen mature men chewing on each other. For me, this is hard. This is sad. If someone didn’t get a medal, you can have mine.”

EagleDay moves the team outside, to the locust tree. Once again, he prepares the altar, and the players gather in a circle. “Don’t let go of how much we care for each other,” he says. “In this relationship that we have now, as we’ve gathered in a circle, locked together to each other, this circle is a symbol of our journey. I didn’t finish the story the other day, the story that says, ‘Never let go of each other. Don’t let go of yourselves. Don’t let go of your dreams.’ ”

It is the story of the Ghost Dance.

“This man, when he returned home from the dance, he told his people, ‘Brothers and sisters, we have to hold on. We have to lock up.’ And when they went to Wounded Knee and saw the adversity ahead of them, he said, ‘This is something we can endure only if we’re together.’ And when the soldiers massacred the people, they put them in a huge common grave. Some of the people they couldn’t separate, they couldn’t get their hands apart. This circle is strong, this circle is committed. . . I’m going to take the smoke around the circle--no beginning, no end. It just goes.”

*

In northern Montana, the snow still falls, and trumpeter swans will soon continue their journeys north. Francis LaPlant, who scored his only goal of the tournament in the final game, returns home and graduates from high school, still hoping to go to college in the fall.

Foster returns to his work as director of mental health. Awaiting him is a letter from Indian Health Services saying he is spending too much time away from the job and must curtail his outside activities.

Darin Williams, the assistant coach and goalie, flies home to Fresno but soon will be traveling to Atlanta, where he will be on the support staff of the U.S. team handball squad as it competes in the Olympics.

EagleDay flies to Greece, representing the USOC at an international sports conference, allowing him to extend the reach of the Native American Sports Council. There was bitter disappointment in Oklahoma, he says, but the design is never perfect and must constantly change.

For one player, the journey has not yet ended. About 300 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, in a cemetery at the edge of a small Missouri town, dogwoods are in bloom. A cardinal flickers in and about the pines and oaks, paying no attention to Shel McLain as he searches for his father’s grave.

He was 9 years old the last time he was here in El Dorado Springs, wedged between dark-suited aunts and uncles as his father was laid to rest on a summer day. McLain wasn’t certain what would happen to him and his two brothers. He hadn’t seen his mother, a full-blooded Cree, since the age of 3, when his father came for the children and whisked them out of Canada, away from her drinking.

“I’m not sure how legally he took us,” McLain, says. “I think he was wanted for kidnapping. It was never a healthy relationship. She was an alcoholic, and he was abusive.”

They had traveled from town to town, mostly in Montana, leaving no forwarding address. He remembers long trips in his father’s cream-colored Ford station wagon when he would awaken in the night and lean forward from the back seat, place his head close to his father’s and gaze emptily at the center stripes flickering through the headlight beams. Sometimes he would say nothing before easing back to sleep, feeling safe wrapped within the sedative hum and thump of the highway passing beneath him.

Despite his father’s faults, McLain remembers him as a kind man, a history teacher. He was 59 years old when he died. He was a World War II vet, and he wore a cowboy hat and snakeskin boots. His eyes were clear and bright. His hands were gentle. He listened to the Sons of the Pioneers.

McLain stops suddenly when he sees his father’s marker just off a dirt path that scribbles its way through the cemetery. He stands at the foot of the grave, his lean 6-foot-4 frame stretched tall, head held high, black hair combed straight back, a beads-and-bone choker around his neck, hands clasped in front of him.

He takes three quick, sharp breaths for strength or, perhaps, containment, then steps slowly to the marker, which frames a photograph of his father. McLain kneels and gently wipes the stains of raindrops from the square jaw of a still-young face.

It is getting dark. McLain says nothing.

McLain never found a groove during the tournament, partly because of the ankle he injured in the first game. Perhaps next time will be different. Shortly before leaving for Colorado Springs, he had driven his girlfriend to a waterfall in Washington, where he laid three dozen red, white and yellow roses upon white satin and sang a song he had written, partly in Cree, as a proposal of marriage.

He and his fiancee are looking at graduate schools in Atlanta, where the U.S. team handball program is based and will train for the 2000 Olympics. The game made an impression on him, and, if given the opportunity, he says, he may give it a shot. The game has given him a new dream.

The circle never ends. The journey that took him from this cemetery 16 years ago now delivers him to fading twilight and dogwoods in bloom, to ties of blood that run through generations, to this good-and-bad man buried beneath greening grass. To memories of long-ago places that appeared in headlights. He spends some time with his father. He tells him about this woman he loves, this dream he has found. He softly hums a song, “Amazing Grace,” and then he says goodbye.


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