MESKWAKI – There was plenty of excitement, enthusiasm and pride at the Meskwaki Settlement School, and they were accompanied by a feeling of home.
That's because they were home for an athletic event for the first time in the fall.
After travelling more than 2,o00 miles in their inaugural season in 2009, the Meskwaki Warriors hosted their first ever varsity football game Friday night, playing Central City in an 8-man prep football game.
The Wildcats won 62-26, but it didn't spoil the night people on the Meskwaki Settlement have been waiting for quite awhile.
"Ever since they told us the new school was going to be built," said Dean Whitebreast, a chairman on the Meskwaki School Board and the announcer at Friday night's game. "We had an idea of what we wanted to do but this is that night we've been waiting for for a long time."
During that long wait, many tribe members had to play sports at nearby high schools, like South Tama. Tribe members could claim an added sense of pride, watching their children sport the Meskwaki school colors . Especially now they are playing at home.
"It's very big," Whitebreast said. "This is where we call home. This is where we want our children to participate in our sports programs."
The activities started about three hours before the game. Kids were playing catch around the football field long before either team showed up. Virgil Lasley, a Meskwaki booster club member whose son, Vincent, is a wide receiver for the Warriors, fired up a grill and welcomed some tailgators in the school parking lot. The booster club offered burgers, chips, beans and a drink. Some sat under a large tent and ate.
"We thought we'd have a fundraiser," Lasley said. "get our kids funds for whatever they need."
The Warriors will need a lot more home-cooked meals this season. Their opener against Central City was the first of five home games. AIt's a relief to last year's road schedule that ended 0-8, travelling to play teams like Adair-Casey and Stanton. The fans still made the three to four hour drives for those games.
"It was actually kind of fun," Lasley said. "We outnumbered some team's (fans) last year."
The community continued their support Friday night, filling the stands about two-thirds full. They were vocal, cheering on the short-handed squad, that had 11 players suited suited to play and five othyers who were not yet eligible.
"We're excited about the first Warrior home game," said Brad Yellowhammer, of Toledo, whose stepsons, Trenton and Theron Garcia, play for Meskwaki. "To me, it's a really big deal and I think it is to everybody else."
Sean Keahna, who lives on the settlement, worked on the chain gang for the game. It was his first chance to do so in almost 20 years. It's one of the neat experiences of having games at home now.
"It's pretty fun," Keahna said. "I haven't done it since I lived in Oklahoma."
He was extremely busy trying to keep up with the two teams, especially in the first half.
The teams combined for 66 points with Central City owning a 40-26 lead.
The Wildcats (1-0) jumped on the scoreboard their very first play from scrimmage. Justin Kerscher ran around left end and scampered 55 yards for the score and a 6-0 lead.
The Warriors (0-1) answered immediately with a nice quick 63-yard, two-play drive capped by Stacy YoungBear's 30-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Lasley. Lasley caught a slant and then cut throught the field for the score.
Kerscher and YoungBear powered their teams in the first half.
Kerscher rushed for 152 yards on 13 carries, scoring two rushing TDs, including a 1-yard plunge putting the Wildcats up 34-20 with 2:16 remaining in the second quarter. Kerscher was big on special teams, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. The first was a 70-yard TD return in the first quarter and the second came on a 68-yard return with 46 seconds to go in the first half.
YoungBear was also impressive. He had 268 passing yards and four TDs in the first half. he hit Dayton Lasley twice for TDs, including scoring strikes of 22 and 23 yards. YoungBear also rushed for 105 yards in the first half.
Even if the scoreboard didn't go in the Warriors favor, their efforts and their first game at home won over the favor of the fans. It was a special night for the school and community that is earning recognition for its athletics.
"It's a feeling of joy," Keahna said. "I'm happy for the tribe and the school."