Taholah plays, and sings, for its school, its community and its culture

Players dream of success on the court while staying true to tribal traditions.

THE SONG IS about power, the kind that burns from within.

Legend tells of a Quinault ancestor who danced within the fire, who rolled around in the flames. He could pick up coals, brilliant orange with heat, and eat them, too. His power came from that fire in his belly, hot embers forever smoldering beneath the surface.

That’s the story Levi Jackson tells before each game when he tilts his head back and bursts into song.

It’s Levi Jackson’s last season playing basketball for the Taholah Chitwhins of the Quinault Indian Nation. And Levi wants to help bring home the team’s first state basketball championship. (Bettina Hansen & Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

Fifteen minutes before tipoff of every Taholah High School boys basketball game, Jackson’s teammates circle tightly around him, collective energy rising from the moment he hits his first note. On the road, the ritual is treated with curiosity — sometimes even with suspicion. Inside their home gym, though, it is as much a part of the Taholah hoops experience as the Chitwhins’ run-and-gun offense.

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Even for those without an understanding of the Quinault language, the emotion in Jackson’s song is obvious. It is guttural, rhythmic, evocative. Students take videos on their cellphones. Some family members clap along to the beat, and others close their eyes.

On a night in late January, fires sufficiently stoked after Jackson’s song, the Chitwhins defeat Lake Quinault, 100-14, on Senior Night. The comically lopsided final score serves only to embolden murmurs already building around the village: that this team, with its 17-2 record and earlier takedown of defending champion Neah Bay, might be the group to finally win a proud program’s first state basketball title.

Their pursuit is only part of the story.


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