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Authors: Pat LaFontaine,Ernie Valutis,Chas Griffin,Larry Weisman

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BOOK: Companions in Courage
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We read about courage. We can only imagine the anger and bitterness Darryl had to overcome to watch his own son on the battlefield
that ended his career and put him in a wheelchair for life. He faced that test in 1999 when Derek was injured in an arena

“I got a phone call from one of Derek’s teammates. He told me he’d been injured but they didn’t know to what extent. I was
just stunned. I didn’t know what to think. I was just hoping that lightning hadn’t struck twice,” Darryl says.

It turned out to be a minor concussion.

Fear disappears in the face of courage. Darryl and Derek both know that. Still, when he encouraged Derek to pursue football,
Darryl spoke words few of us in his situation might have uttered: “You go out and play. Don’t think about me. Just play the
game like it’s supposed to be played. That’s what I tried to do.”

That’s advice any father could give. I just think it means more coming from Darryl Stingley.


Pride and

Notah Begay III

ust drop me off here, Dad. It’s okay. I can walk.”

Notah Begay pleaded with his father every morning as they neared the prestigious, private Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico.

Notah was the only Native American in the sixth grade at this fine school, and certainly the only one being driven there in
an old Chevy truck that the family referred to as “Old Blue.” He couldn’t help but feel as out of place as that worn truck
amid the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, couldn’t hide that bite of shame when Old Blue let out its familiar backfire.

So he begged to be dropped a few blocks from the school, away from the stares of his classmates and the obvious influence
of affluence.

His father wouldn’t hear of it.

“No,” he’d say, driving right into the parking lot amid the shiny and expensive foreign cars. “This is us.”

Notah’s mother, Laura Ansera-Roybal, who serves as the juvenile justice coordinator for Native Americans for the state of
New Mexico, and his father, Notah II, who is a specialist for the Indian Health Service, found scholarships and took out loans
so Notah could attend the academy. They worked hard to balance the elite environment of the school with their values and social
conscience. The discomfort Notah felt when he stepped from the truck, his father knew, wouldn’t be fatal. But not being true
to who you are? Nothing could be more dangerous. The lesson stuck with Notah as he wrestled with the contrasts of his two

Growing up in a small adobe house on the Isleta Pueblo Reservation outside of Albuquerque left him a little short of creature
comforts. “For a while we had to boil hot water on a stove to take a bath,” he says. In contrast, at the academy he lived
amid materialism and plenty.

His athletic abilities helped buy him acceptance. He learned that being able to run, jump, and shoot could, in many people’s
eyes, excuse a backfiring pickup. From the sixth grade to graduation he excelled in sports and lettered in basketball, soccer,
and golf.

Notah’s golf beginnings were as basic and simple as his lifestyle. He was six years old when he and his brother, Clint, walked
with his dad in the Twilight League at Ladera Golf Club in Albuquerque. The bug bit him big time.

“At age six I fell in love with golf,” he says. “I would save money to buy practice balls. But soon my urge to practice exceeded
my piggy bank. One evening I waited in the parking lot at the local public course to talk to the pro.”

Begay bartered hard work in exchange for access to the course after work. His basketball coach, Mike Brown, remembers, “Notah
would get out of school around 3
and practice his chipping before the gym opened at 4:40 for basketball.”

As an eighth-grader, Notah was in his first state tournament in Roswell. Undaunted by the country-club atmosphere, and true
to his culture, Notah drew red lines under his eyes with red clay, an Indian symbol of preparing for a challenge. He opened
his corn pollen bundle and asked for blessings. His coach, Bob Verardo, remembers the other players yelling, “Woo-woo-woo!
Hey, Chief, what’s with the war paint?” He also remembers, “They stopped as soon as he hit the ball.”

As his skills improved, Notah grew from a young kid carrying his clubs around on a bus and playing municipal courses to a
mature young man with a huge golf dream. He even knew the obstacles. “I got the message,” he says. “Indians aren’t supposed
to do this. Indians aren’t supposed to do that. You can’t be lawyers. You can’t be doctors. And God forbid you’d be a professional
golfer.” He adds, “I didn’t listen to it because I had this connection to the game of golf. Golf kind of grabbed me by the
hand and said, ‘This is going to be something that’s going to do a lot of things for you.’”

At seventeen he was the top-ranked junior in the nation. As history would have it, another young phenom was breaking his own
barriers. Number 2 was Tiger Woods. They were soon to be teammates at Stanford, where Notah earned a golf scholarship.

Once again, Notah’s choice of school and major reflected his desire to be a role model for others. He knew that American Indians
are the poorest minority in the United States and have the lowest rates of college attendance. He also knew that he already
had the attention of young kids.

“I saw that I had a positive influence on them, and they kind of listened to what I had to say just based on what little amount
of success I had had in golf,” he says. “I realized then that I needed to get my college degree. I felt it would be hypocritical
of me to give talks to Indian kids about the need for an education, staying in school and getting good grades, if I myself
didn’t do it. I chose a difficult school so I could go back and tell them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”

He graduated with a degree in economics and a list of accomplishments that not only exemplified his commitment to excellence
but underscored what he told kids: “Work harder to prove wrong those who have stereotypes and low expectations.”

He was a member of Stanford’s 1994 NCAA Championship team, a three-time All-America selection, holder of fifteen major junior
and amateur titles. That 1994 Stanford team is a story in itself, breaking culture barriers all over the place: Tiger Woods,
Will Yanagisawa, Casey Martin, Steve Burdick, and Begay.

Notah Begay III is the first full-blooded Native American to play and win on the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour. “My
life has changed, but I have not,” he says. “This is who I am. I am an Indian.”

He may have stopped coloring his cheeks but he still draws on the Keresan culture of San Felipe Pueblo. “There is great power
there,” he says. “I reach into my spirit and my soul and the teachings that my mom imparted onto me—believe in yourself, allow
your spirit to fly free, and trust yourself.”

Now he is able to fulfill his dream to be a role model for young American Indians. The week of the Kemper Open at the Tournament
Players Club at Avenel, fifteen miles from Washington, D.C., Notah went to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Committee
on Indian Affairs. His words contributed to increasing awareness of the high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, disease, suicide,
and school dropouts that prevail on the reservations. He spoke eloquently to the leaders of our country, and he spoke personally
to the young people his life now touches.

“I came from playing in vacant fields and overcoming odds,” he says. “I’m here to tell you, I’m no different from you. I see
your faces, and I see part of me in you. You all have the potential to go out and pursue what you want to do.”

He makes no claims of perfection, however. He is human and can stumble—as he did in January 2000, when he was arrested and
convicted on a charge of drunk driving. Did he make excuses, whine about circumstances, and try to dodge the law? No. In fact,
he informed the judge about a prior out-of-state offense, guaranteeing himself a seven-day jail sentence.

“You do something wrong, you pay the price,” he says. Begay himself has more to do on the positive side of the ledger. His
first name, translated from the Navajo, means “almost there.” He likes to add, “But not quite.”

Willie O’Ree

hen I think of Harlem, hockey isn’t what usually pops into my mind. Race surely does.

I question the origins of bigotry. I wonder why the color of a person’s skin matters so much. I struggle with hatred. I admire
those in the front lines of the war against it.

At P.S. 113 in Harlem, Willie O’Ree stood in front of seventy-five neighborhood kids in the cafeteria, teaching them the fundamentals
of skating, hockey, and life. A new program, Ice Hockey In Harlem, invited Willie to come to inspire young African-American
kids to consider hockey as their sport. Why Willie O’Ree?

Willie was the first African-American to lace up his skates in the National Hockey League. He is to hockey what Jackie Robinson
is to baseball—a pioneer, one who changed the landscape and smashed the barriers holding others back.

Willie was the youngest of twelve children, so holding his own in a crowded house was good training for learning to survive
on an ice surface crowded with racial taunts and high sticks. Willie first put on skates when he was three, a typical Canadian
kid who loved to skate to school. As he got older, he hung out with his older brother and his friends, who played in an instructional
league in Fredricton, New Brunswick.

Willie distinguished himself at every level of competition. However, playing hockey in Canada, where racism is somewhat muted,
didn’t prepare Willie for what he had to face when he broke into the professional ranks with the American Hockey League. The
night he took the ice against Tidewater, reality cross-checked him when a black cat and cotton balls greeted him during his
first shift. He played through the taunts and the disdain, through cold and malicious stares.

When Willie was called up to the Boston Bruins in 1960, he was ecstatic. The Bruins organization and his new team-mates welcomed
him warmly. He was greeted differently by opposing teams, as you can imagine. In a game between the Bruins and the Chicago
Blackhawks the racial tension peaked. One Blackhawk butt-ended O’Ree, first with vicious racial taunts and later with the
end of his stick, knocking out his front teeth. Willie responded instinctively, breaking his stick over his assailant’s head.
A brawl broke out when both benches emptied.

After order was restored, Willie needed a police escort to leave Chicago Stadium.

“Racist remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto and Montreal. I particularly remember a few incidents
in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South’ and ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t
bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that
fact, that was their problem, not mine.”

Willie O’Ree completed that season, but it was his last full one in the NHL. An earlier injury, which had blinded him in his
right eye, as well as the wear and tear of professional hockey, had ground down his skills. “I could deal with the racism,”
he said, “but not the blindness.”

Even minus an eye, Willie played minor-league hockey with the San Diego Hawks in the Pacific Coast League until the 1979–80

Now in his early sixties, Willie works as a security manager at a San Diego hotel and travels the country as director of the
NHL’s Diversity Task Force. He introduces minority children to hockey and to what it takes to overcome whatever obstacles
may block their personal path.

When Willie O’Ree was honored at the 1998 All-Star Game in Vancouver, British Columbia, he was not saluted for his statistics
(four goals and ten assists in forty-five NHL games) but for his courage, for standing up to racial bigotry, and for opening
the door for minorities in the NHL.

Sometimes it’s not about scoring goals. It’s about setting and achieving them.

Esteban Toledo

steban Toledo, known as the “Grinder King” on the PGA Tour, grew up playing in a foursome with poverty, heartache, and prejudice
as his associates. This is a man acquainted with adversity, who knows what it takes to persevere and succeed.

Unlike many of his fellow golfers, he didn’t come of age in the plush confines of a country club. Toledo, the youngest of
eleven brothers and sisters, grew up in Mexico. He began his climb to the Tour in a dirt-floor farmhouse that didn’t have
electricity or running water. Before Esteban was in first grade he knew how to tend livestock, pick cotton, and deal with

One afternoon the incessant barking of a dog got his attention. As any curious kid would, he went to see what the commotion
was all about. He found the body of his murdered brother.

It’s fair to say that the one tragedy spawned another. For shortly after his brother’s death, Esteban’s father died of a heart
attack. Esteban and his mother, who never recovered from her grief, were left to tend the farm. Esteban, who did not celebrate
holidays such as his birthday or Christmas, shouldered the heavy responsibility of caring for his mother and the farm at the
ripe old age of eight.

In order to make more money to support his mother and the farm, Esteban began swimming across the river that separated his
family farm from the Mexicali Country Club to scavenge for lost balls and sell them back to the members. As time went by and
the membership of Mexicali got used to his presence, Esteban was allowed to work in the locker room and to caddy. His interest
in golf took shape on blistering afternoons when the membership waited for the heat to subside.

He would make sure no suspecting eyes were following him and then he’d go out on the course and practice hitting balls. An
abandoned seven-iron that he had found and kept hidden in the woods was the only club he had. Because Esteban had learned
to be alert, he also became a keen observer and picked up the basics of golf’s mechanics by watching members.

BOOK: Companions in Courage
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