By: Dan Ninham
“I take pride in both tribes I represent,” said Seniesha Sekaquaptewa. “ I am fortunate to learn values from both cultures that are applicable, not only to sports, but all aspects of life. At about the age of 11 I knew I wanted to play collegiate basketball. I was always taught that success does not come easily, and you need to earn it with the work that you put in. I dedicated a lot of my time to training and skill development on the court, while also making sure to stay engaged in my schoolwork and perform well in academics. All I’ve known is the student-athlete life."
Seniesha Sekaquaptewa is a 5’6 point guard at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA. She is from Second Mesa, AZ.
“My mother, Felicia Sekaquaptewa, is Diné from Teesto, AZ and my father, Wayne Sekaquaptewa, is Hopi from the village of Sipaulovi” said Seniesha.
“The challenges at the collegiate level demand even more from you, but what has helped me overcome challenges I face every day is remembering teachings instilled in me at a young age from my elders and teachers. Many Hopi athletes know about the word ‘Nahongvita,’ and we use this word to spark the mentality that you can push forward. It encourages you to test your limits and find strength. This word has helped me in my journey and continues to motivate me to finish my degree and get myself through tough days on the courts,” added Seniesha.
Student-Athletes are encouraged by many people to continue on their journey in a good way. “When I first started out in sports, I looked to my older cousins Jelani Huma and Chelena Betoney, as role models,” said Seniesha. “Their dedication and work ethic was apparent in all they did in sports and academics. They inspired me to set goals for myself and follow in their footsteps. Just before I entered middle school my family moved to Phoenix, AZ. Here I was introduced to a number of coaches that influenced me and helped me become the athlete I am today.”
Cousin Jelani Huma said: “One of the memorable traits of Seniesha’s leadership has been her approach to diversity on and off the court. Growing up, Seniesha and I have spent a lot of our childhood and a few years of high school together. One memorable time that I remember is during my senior year and her sophomore year of high school, she and I had injuries at the same time that left both of us not being able to play the first few months of the basketball season. Daily I was reminded to be more appreciative of the opportunities given, good and bad because of Seniesha. She had shown me this encouragement in her attitude, that a bad situation can be turned into a blessing. Her leadership became more present during this time of year to me because of her habits. She would continue to be involved with the team by holding herself accountable in bettering herself in the time of not being able to play. Senieisha showed myself what one person may be capable of and how strong as leader and individual she could be in her years.”
Cousin Chelena Betoney said: “There is no surprise that Seniesha has developed the skills of being a leader. That all started at a very young age when we used to play basketball and grandma and grandpa’s home. Even though Seneisha is a couple years younger than me, I looked up to her because of the young women she is and becoming, I still do. When we were younger, my uncle (her dad) used to coach me, my brother and other kids at basketball tournaments in the Hopi area. We played in 8-10 years and under basketball tournaments. Although Seneisha is about 3-4 years younger than us, she was always sitting on the bench next to us in an oversized jersey. The jersey would be tied in the back to make it fit her better. That was the first time we were on the court playing together. There I knew was the start of her taking sports more seriously and how important it is to put in the effort to learn. I’m grateful to have shared this experience with her.”
“We come from a running and basketball family. Anyone who has participated in sports knows that it can teach very valuable lessons to become a better person. It’s not just sports, but as well as academics, involved in different organizations, etc. I also believe living on the reservation can teach very valuable lessons, such as discipline. There’s always something to be done at home on the reservation, whether it be cleaning the house, cooking, chopping wood, or hauling water. You would find something to do,” added Chelena.
“Seniesha was able to experience all that, which defines who she is now,” said Chelena. “She developed the determination to learn to be a better player, teammate, and a better person in general. When she puts her mind to succeed something, she doesn’t let anything, or anyone hold her back. She knows to be able to accomplish a goal she would have to put in the effort herself. This relates to the sayings of “T’aa hwo ajit’eego (Navajo)’ and “Nahongvita (Hopi)’, which can be interpreted in different ways but generally means that no one is going to accomplish your goals for you and that no matter the goal, you’re giving it all you have while keeping positive thoughts. We all know not everything is going to go our way, but to experience failure develops you to be mentally strong.
“Seniesha is able to take constructive criticism, and whether it is being in sports, academics, etc. she knows that it will improve her game, her academics and anything else that she is involved in. That is one of the traits of being a leader. She provides help to her teammates, classmates, family, and she is open to receive help from others as well. With the support from her family, teammates, coaches and friends, she was able to dominate in anything she did. I love my cousin and there is no doubt that she is going to go a long way. This is only the start for her. She is a great role model to her family, her friends, and the native community,” added Chelena.
Coach Ephraim Sloan, Run ‘n Gun girls varsity basketball coach, said “ Bish (Seniesha) first came to me when she was a junior at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, AZ. From the beginning, I could see she had a natural tendency to lead. The very first tournament I entered my varsity girls simmer travel team in, she led us to the championship game. The tournament we played in, hosted some of the better Club teams in the Phoenix area, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The group of young ladies I had were not the most talented at the time, but they were eager to learn and to play the game. Out of the bunch, you could tell Bish was the most talented. We won the first game, and then we won the second, third, and fourth games. In the championship game, experience played in favor of the other team that was made up of mostly upperclassmen, and we lost by 5.”
“What really stood out to me with Bish in that first tournament, wasn’t so much her talent and skill level, but her attitude and how she handled herself. Nowadays, you see a lot of players who are loaded with talented by don’t possess great leadership traits. Instead they are arrogant, cocky, and want to be in the spotlight. With Bish, she had this humbleness to her personality you couldn’t help to be drawn to it. She made the game easier for her sisters (teammates), who were all sophomores, freshmen and in eighth grade at the time. I give credit to her parents for how she carried herself n such a manner,” added Coach Ephraim.
“As months turned into years, our relationship grew stronger, going from coach/mentor/trainer to a family in a short time,” said Coach Ephraim. “Along this time, we’ve had countless talks about leadership, life, basketball, whatever the case may be, we talked.”
“One thing that I’ve always tried to instill along with her leadership ability was a ‘killer instinct.’ This is something she could to life as well in all aspects. There would be times in close game situations, where I wanted her to have the ball in her hands to get us a bucket. This is where the leadership side of her game would often play against her sometimes. By all means, 95% of the time would make the right play, but making an open looks, or getting to the foul line would be something we needed more. In times like that, I would often say “We don’t need you to be LeBron James right now, we need you to be MJ, go get the ball and tell the girls ge out a the way!’ She’d always chuckle and say “Okay.” It was always something I wanted her to find a balance within her game. Bish’s leadership is just a part of who she is, and put her in any group setting to do a project, guarantee she be one of, if not the first to speak and work on getting the project done.”
“Fast forward to now, Bish is currently a junior at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts along with one of my other former players, Shante Slender, who is a senior,” said Coach Ephraim. “We talk often, when she comes homes for breaks, we are in the gym working out, expanding her game and continue to work on that killer instinct, aka ‘Mamba Mentality.” I try to watch Bish play and Shante play as much as I can when their games are being streamed online. Each game I’ve watched, I see leadership Bish and Shante provided when they played for me, makes me proud. Whether it was on the court, on the bench, in the weight room or classroom, I know Bish is leading by example.”
“I have been at ENC for three years, I was recruited as a freshman,” said Saniesha. “I moved across the country to pursue an education and basketball game me the opportunity to do so. Not many native students will leave the reservation . As a young student I was blessed to have great educators who encouraged me to explore and continue learning. I cannot express how much I appreciate the work that my past teachers put into my education. My goal is to earn my Elementary Education degree and return to the indigenous community to inspire children to earn a degree as well. I believe that in order to preserve our native way of life we need to educate ourselves to navigate in this society. We need more leaders to guide indigenous communities to succeed.
“Saneisha shares her advice for other student-athletes to succeed. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Saniesha. “Utilize the resources you have. Coaches and professors can be helpful if you’re struggling. Time management is crucial in order to be successful. Know when to say no to focus on what should be prioritized, but also find balance in work and play. Enjoy all the experiences college has to offer.
ABOUT THE NECC
The NECC began competition in the 2008-09 academic year and current member institutions compete across 15 sports. The NECC membership focuses on providing athletic competition among institutions that share similar academic aspirations and are committed to the importance of the total educational experience for students engaged in sports. Current members include Bay Path University, Becker College, Dean College, Eastern Nazarene College, Elms College, Lesley University, Mitchell College and New England College.
(Story courtesy of NDN Sports. Original story can be found here. Photo Credits: Wayne Sekaquaptewa and Rob Rossi)