Some players take trips to exotic locations and relax during their offseasons.
Chris Wondolowski will do just that, but not before a weeklong trip to support and embrace his Native American heritage. He was the official witness for the signing of an agreement between Native Americans and the American Health Service in Washington D.C. earlier this week, and now finds himself in the land of his ancestors – Kiowa Nation.
Today, Wondolowski dropped by a luncheon hosted by leaders in the Kiowa community to celebrate elders still with the tribe. Each elder, or person over 65 years old, received a cash gift, coupon for a turkey and a jacket with the Kiowa logo emblazoned on the back. Tomorrow, Chris will stop by the Riverside Indian School – the same school his grandma attended many years ago – and will bring the beautiful game to Kiowa youth with a free soccer clinic.
Wondolowski has become a hero here in Oklahoma City to the many Native youth and adults that became enamored with the star striker during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. One of those fans is Amber C. Toppah, Chairman of the Kiowa Business Committee. Toppah hadn’t watched a lot of soccer before Wondo came around, but, like many folks in this community, she was glued to the TV when she found out a fellow Kiowa would represent the United States in the world’s biggest sporting event.
SJEarthquakes.com caught up with Toppah following Thursday’s luncheon. Here’s what she had to say about Wondo, the World Cup and soccer in Kiowa Nation:
SJEarthquakes.com: Tell me a bit about today’s event.
Amber C. Toppah: We do an annual elder payment event. We do it in Tulsa, OKC and the Carnegie area. It’s a small token of appreciation where you hit a certain age and we give them some Christmas funds to help out during the season. We cherish our elders and it’s truly a blessing to be able to help them out.
SJEQ: What’s it like having Chris Wondolowski attend the event?
ACT: As soon as everybody heard, they were like, “Where is he going to be and how can we meet him?” It’s also important for our elders to see that there are young Kiowa out there doing their own profession and doing their own thing. It just so happens that he’s a sports star. The thing with 2014, sports figures are icons and that also helps out with our community with the soccer clinic on Friday. He’s really a role model for the Kiowa tribe.
SJEQ: Are there many soccer fans in Kiowa Nation?
ACT: Like I said earlier [during the luncheon], we didn’t really know about soccer, because it’s still new to the United States and especially the Kiowa, but there are some fanatics now. With soccer becoming more mainstream and the World Cup, they’re getting excited about it.
SJEQ: I hear you guys hosted some viewing parties during the World Cup. How did those go?
ACT: There were viewing parties with our elders at the AOA Center. Chris’ grandfather also had people over to his house. It was something to teach and show the game and also root on one of our fellow tribesmen.
SJEQ: How does Chris’ Kiowa name, Bau Daigh (Warriors Coming Over Hill) applicable to him?
ACT: Anytime you’re given a Kiowa name or an Indian name, it’s the greatest honor. Not everybody gets one. He’s a warrior – he’s today’s warrior. It might not be like in a war or what the name used to mean, but it’s something that fits him… I’m sure he holds that close to his heart.
SJEQ: Do Kiowa youth look up to Wondo?
ACT: In today’s society, we need more positive role models. We need those people who are identifiable Kiowas – and not just Kiowas, but Natives – to show kids that there’s something else out there than the shenanigans that kids get into today. We need more people to step up to the plate to say, “Hey, listen up kids; you could be just like me, or you could do this or that.” We need that idea instilled in them.
SJEQ: Has there been an increase in soccer participation among Kiowa over the years?
ACT: Oh yes, definitely. You see a lot more Natives in soccer leagues – even the little guys. They’re just becoming involved. To have somebody like Chris, our kids get excited and they’re saying, “I want to be the next Wondo!” That’s awesome. I know it’s harder for the adults because we didn’t grow up with soccer, but we’re getting there and if we have somebody to support, we’ll learn the rules to anything. We’re here to fully support Wondo.