All-Nations Football Conference athletes relish spring season

·4 min read

May 22—Elijah Kawalzek wanted to play football this season.

Tiospa Zina and the All-Nations Football Conference gave him that opportunity.

Kawalzek was originally enrolled at nearby Sisseton, but didn't play in the fall and transferred to Tiospa Zina. He's since helped the Wambdi go 6-0 this spring season, including a 50-0 win over Omaha Nation in the semifinals of the All-Nations Football Conference at Joe Quintal Field.

"I love football so much," Kawalzek said. "I was hoping to God I could play. So this means a lot playing in the spring."

He credited the coaching staff, including head coach Michael Peters for giving him that opportunity.

"I owe them everything," Kawalzek added.

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The All-Nations Football Conference debuted in 2019, but was canceled in the 2020 fall season due to the pandemic. Lower Brule, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Marty, McLaughlin, Tiospa Zina, Omaha Nation (Neb.) and Winnebago (Neb.) opted to play this spring.

Peters and Tiospa Zina, which is located in Agency Village in northeast South Dakota, was totally on board with playing this spring.

"We 100% wanted to play," Peters said. "Parents, 100% wanted to play. Players, athletes 150% wanted to play. There was no other option for us. Everything and the momentum was flowing in that direction. So we did it and kudos to all these other teams. They are giving their opportunities to their team and their athletes."

Tiospa Zina's Devin Longcrow hauls in a grab en route to the end zone past the Omaha Nation defense during an All Nations Football Conference semifinal game on Friday at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Tiospa Zina's Devin Longcrow hauls in a grab en route to the end zone past the Omaha Nation defense during an All Nations Football Conference semifinal game on Friday at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

That's why Peters said the All-Nations Football Conference, which is made up of Native American schools, is a positive for the student-athletes.

"They will be able to connect and build a little bit of a spirit decor within the tribal communities," Peters said. "But through football. I still talk about football games with some of the guys when we were in high school and some of the other tribal schools."

Tiospa Zina, which is part of the Lake Traverse Reservation, also uses the sport to support its cultural heritage on the gridiron.

The Wambdi calls plays in its Dakota language, which is something Peters adopted from school districts in Hawaii.

"What we are trying to do is find a place other than cultural events and things like that to use our language in everyday life and contemporary life," Peters said. "We started doing that 7-8 years ago. It's catching on now to where the boys can call audibles and no one knows what they are doing."

On Friday, the Wambdi were successful in any language. Tiospa Zina, which led 24-0 at halftime, recorded its third shutout of the season. In the first half, Devin Longcrow and Kawalzek recorded interceptions on defense.

Kawalzek scored on touchdown runs of 42 and 57 yards, while Osceola Bluehorse II busted a 42-yard score.

In the second half, Jayden Fryer threw touchdown passes to Azeriah Eastman, Mike Smith and Longcrow. Courage Brown also scored a second-half touchdown.

Tiospa Zina plays either Winnebago (Neb.) in the championship game on Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at Joe Quintal Field. Tiospa Zina defeated Lower Brule, 58-28, in the other semifinal on Friday.

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