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Archive for Sunday, May 14, 2006

Keegan: Budget crunch ails HINU

May 14, 2006

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On the future talent front, it was a big week for Kansas University basketball.

Early in the week, Darrell Arthur's signing hogged the headlines. Friday night, KU Class of 2011 recruit Cole Aldrich hobbled through a poor effort in a Jayhawk Invitational game. Potential signees Tyrel Reed and Travis Releford played far better.

The polar opposite end of college basketball recruiting is just three miles from Allen Fieldhouse, where Haskell Indian Nations University women's basketball coach Phil Homeratha is rummaging through the equipment closet attached to his small, cluttered-yet-organized office.

He proudly shows off the practice jerseys and equipment bags from Nike and boasts the school's teams no longer have to worry about taking fields and courts with mismatching shades of purple.

Haskell was in the headlines this week, too, just not in a way that made anybody celebrate. Financial stresses at the four-year school are such that 30 percent of the faculty positions are vacant.

"We're getting eaten up by inflation," Homeratha said. "You can do one of two things: You can complain or you can adjust. I've always adjusted."

A 1961 graduate of Haskell when it was a high school trade school, Homeratha, 63, has been in its athletic department for 35 years. During the Vietnam War, he said, he feared federal budget cuts could lead to severe cutbacks, if not total suspension of the athletic department. When the Twin Towers crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001, he said those fears resurfaced.

Haskell is federally funded, which makes Homeratha and the rest of the faculty civil servants, meaning they are not allowed to solicit contributions. The best Homeratha could hope for would be for someone to write out a check earmarked for the women's basketball program to be spent at his discretion.

He takes great pride in the progress his team has made since moving from the junior college ranks. In its first season as a four-year school, Homeratha said, the team went 5-20 in 2000-2001. This past season, he said the Indians finished 14-14 and "almost made it to the playoffs."

The talent pool from which he selects is limited first by the requirement that all students must be of Indian heritage, the percentage of Native blood required varying from tribe to tribe. Coaching at an NAIA Division II school, Homeratha has no choice but to watch NCAA Division I and II schools and NAIA Division I schools collect the top talent.

Homeratha has cultivated various sources to locate Native talent and does mass mailings to schools in states with a high concentration of Indians.

In recent years, Indian all-star games have been established and he attends them as the budget allows. He had made phone contact with girls selected to play in the Arizona/New Mexico all-star game. Then he received a call informing him that any non-essential expenditures had to be suspended, so he got back on the phone to each of the girls to let them know he couldn't attend.

"For my vacation, I'm packing my bicycle in my car, and I'm driving to Arizona and New Mexico," he said. "And I'm going to visit those girls."

No such thing as a budget cut that can strip a good coach of his will to win.

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