The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded my photo essay on the Whitehorse High School girls basketball team an honorable mention last month.
The project included amazing work from writers Lya Wodraska and Phil Miller and designer Colin Smith. For some reason, the quality of the package wasn’t reflected in contest wins. I don’t know why it didn’t do better (I’m not talking about the photo essay entry, but the writing and special project entries – as a package this project was truly five star).
More importantly, the story resonated with readers, illustrating the ups and downs of life on the Navajo Nation and the economic hardships faced by those living on the reservation. For a community that doesn’t get much coverage, I hope we did well by you.
Here is the essay:
There are few ways out for children living on the economically depressed Navajo Nation. Basketball is one way, with the dream of a college scholarship hanging within reach of just a few. Eight-year-old Tilton Dennison shoots baskets on a rickety hoop outside his home on the Navajo Nation near Aneth, Utah.
Whitehorse High School’s star player, Derica Dickson, prowls alone in the locker room focusing on the upcoming game at home vs. San Juan High School. All season long, Dickson felt the pressure to perform in order to secure a college scholarship.
The Whitehorse Raiders gather in a circle before their first game in the state basketball tournament, where they faced Meridian High School at the Sevier Valley Center, Snow College, Richfield. Whitehorse went on to rout Meridian 51-25.
On an emotional Senior Night, the Whitehorse High School girls basketball team tearfully embrace their former coach, Justin Moon. The team would go on to a win over visiting Rock Point.
The Whitehorse High School girls basketball team passes the time on a long bus ride to play rival San Juan high school in Blanding. CD players, iPods, homework, and naps all make the long road trips bearable. The Raiders travel to schools as far away as three hours during their regular season.
Left to right: Shawnarae Lee, Alex Lee, and Vanessa Whitehorse during a rest stop on a long bus ride to play rival San Juan high school in Blanding. In this remote part of Utah, cel phones come out as people re-enter cel coverage zones so they can check their messages.
Dancers prepare to perform in a pow-wow at Whitehorse High School on the Navajo Nation.
The long walk home for two Whitehorse High School students dropped by bus at the end of a gravel road. The school’s boundaries cover hundreds of square miles, and some students are dropped off as much as five miles from home.
Graduating Whitehorse seniors Cornelia Yellowman (left) and Vanessa Whitehorse prepares for the school’s graduation ceremony. The school graduated 45 students in the class of 2006.
Thanks again to the Dine of Aneth and Montezuma Creek for allowing me to watch your lives. I won’t forget you.