By Dan Ninham
The youth basketball movement at the Red Lake Nation travels throughout Indian Country and beyond. Life lessons are learned with wins and losses along the way. One of the aspiring leader’s in the movement on and off the sidelines is Chris Jourdain.
Chris Jourdain, 45, is a member of the Red Lake Nation. His Indian name is “Forever Lasting Earth.” His clan is Bear and he and his family live in the Little Rock District on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.
Jourdain was a three-sport athlete almost three decades ago at St. John’s Prep in Collegeville, Minn., Red Lake High School and Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis.
Jourdain is a leader as the Chef de Mission with Team Minnesota for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). He is also the Red Lake School Board Chairman.
He coached youth basketball at the middle school boys’ level and elementary boys’ and girls’ feeder programs in Red Lake since 2005.
“My brother Ira was in second grade and asked if I could teach him how to play basketball,” said Jourdain. “We started an afterschool program that went all over the state playing in any tournament I could get them into.”
“As the years went on, I realized the impact a coach can have and started focusing on more than just the game,” said Jourdain. “We always encouraged the teams to not only represent the Ogichidaag (Warriors) name on the jersey, but the Red Lake Nation as a whole, as well as their families.”
“We would let our game talk, leave it all on the floor, respect the officials and opposing teams,” said Jourdain.
“I am a continuous learner of not only basketball, but effective communication, leadership and motivation,” said Jourdain.
“Coach Dan Ninham has always been in my corner and gave me a few opportunities to coach some high school All-Star games in the middle of my career,” said Jourdain. “He also shared his philosophy that it’s not run and gun, it’s run and score.”
“Jeff McCarron, Pacesetter Basketball Director, is another one that I am thankful for,” said Jourdain. “His tournaments gave us the opportunity to play against high caliber teams. He invited our high school teams to the Pacesetter Sweet 16 including the top four teams in each class from A to AAAA. We faced the powerhouse Hopkins team, where I coached against a former Gopher great Richard Coffey, who was coaching his son Amir.”
“Nolan Desjarlait, Sr., Red Lake HS Athletic Director, Randy Holthusen, our head girls’ basketball coach, and Gerald Kingbird, Sr. are a few I have leaned on for support, along with X’s and O’s. Paul D. Jones is a business partner, author, mentor and friend who has taught me a lot on personal leadership and motivation,” added Jourdain.
There was a time when outstanding high school and college coaches came to Red Lake on their basketball tour stops of regional communities. The list included Bob Hurley, Sr., Kelvin Sampson, and Red Lake’s own Ben Strong. These coaches not only inspired the youth but also the local coaches.
“To be successful you have to put the work in on the front end,” said Jourdain. “I point out some of our former players they grew up watching, and the work ethic they had.”
“I let our youth know with that same ethic they too could become a great athlete,” added Jourdain.
“For most student-athletes, high school sports are the only years they’ll get to play at that level of competition,” said Jourdain. “We do have more of our student-athletes going on to play college ball.”
“One of the most memorable moments was coaching the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) 14U gold medal boys’ basketball game in Toronto, Ontario against Team British Columbia,” said Jourdain. “The noise in the gym rivaled any big game atmosphere that I ever experienced. It was a back-and-forth contest and due to injuries, we had just five players in the second half. The game came down to free throws in the final minute, and we held on to get the win!” added Jourdain.
“I like to get kids to see the goal, then I lay out the groundwork I think it takes to get there, and have success to prove that it can work if they buy into the plan,” added Jourdain.