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GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Fond du Lac Basketball league brings the community together

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Basketball: a highly popular sport for many high schoolers. However, after graduation, many all-stars don’t have a place to show off their skills unless there is a local league to play in. On the Fond du Lac reservation, a league for basketball players is that place for many.

For David “Pete” Diver Jr., running a men’s basketball league wasn’t necessarily in his plans. However, after numerous requests from community members, he decided to give it a shot. He went to his boss at the tribe’s Cloquet Community Center and asked if he could run a men’s league that would play in the Head Start gym. Her response was entirely positive, and the Sunday night league was born — well, reborn after a long hiatus — starting in May of this year.

“I do it on my own time, for the community,” Diver said. “I try to do stuff for the community that’s positive.”

Diver’s ties to basketball run deep.

“My uncles, Richard ‘Pops’ Diver and Bob Diver, used to run a league 25 years ago,” Diver said. “I used to play, when they ran the league.”

Now, running the league is his way of honoring his Uncle Richard, who passed away in November 2015.

“They called him ‘the Legend’ when he passed away,” Diver said. “He was popular in sports. He’d take us to other reservations and we’d play against that team. If he played softball, everyone played softball. If he played basketball, everyone would play basketball. If he played football in the backyard, everyone would be there playing. He was OUR coach.”

Now, many community members remark that Divers’ basketball league is his way of filling his uncle's shoes.

“People are really excited for Sunday nights,” Diver said. “And it’s not just the players — it’s the audience, too. We have 40-60 people every Sunday who come and watch. It gives people something to do on a Sunday night. Instead of having a kid out on the street, messing around and causing trouble, they can come watch and have something to look forward to.”

There are five teams in the league: The Golden Bulls, The Warriors, New School, Toon Squad and Team Brookston. Diver hopes the league will gain even more teams in the future.

“Any other area team is welcome,” Diver said. “It’s not just for the reservation — it’s for the whole community.”

But Diver has done more than just restart his uncle’s basketball team: he got the local softball field named after his uncle, as well.

“I noticed the softball field wasn’t named, so I thought to myself ‘we should name that after Richard “Pops” Diver,’” he said. “So I talked to the tribal council (Reservation Business Committee) and they said ‘go ahead.’”

The RBC paid for a plaque, and the naming of the field was revealed at the 2016 Enrollee Days. Now, Diver continues to honor his uncle by running the basketball league. And all of his hard work with the league doesn’t go unrecognized by the players.

“I think it’s awesome that Pete started the league back up,” said Dewey Dupuis, a player for Team Brookston. “It brings the community together. We’re all friends, and there’s no trouble there.”

Dupuis graduated from Fond du Lac Ojibwe High School in 2011, after being on the basketball team there for four years. Now, he enjoys playing with his team on the men’s league.

“Our team dynamic is crazy and good,” Dupuis said. “We’ve only lost one game during this summer league.”

The league runs from the end of May to the end of August, and more and more players are requesting that Diver run a winter league as well. Every Sunday night, fans cheer loudly for their favorite player, and the end of the league brings four weeks of playoffs. The playoffs are double elimination, with a losers bracket. The first-, second-, and third-place teams will receive trophies at the end.

But for many players, the trophies don’t matter: it’s the game that’s important.

“It’s a culture thing,” Dupuis said. “We grew up playing [basketball] our whole lives. It’s a place to relax, to blow stress away. I love it.”

Dupuis may love basketball, but the best part isn’t necessarily the game, as he explains.

“My favorite part is seeing players from around the area — including Duluth — come together and have fun,” he said.

The games are fast-paced and competitive, but Diver keeps the league free of any problems.

“I don’t allow any arguing, fighting, whatever. I have two weeks left (of the summer league) and there has not been a time with fighting so far. If there’s no fighting, I will run a winter league,” he promised.

Dupuis noted that some of the players really surprised him when the league first started.

“There’s some great talent in this league, from defense to offense,” he said.

Some of this talent includes 19-year-old Jordan Diver, who played for the Cloquet High School basketball team his freshman and senior year, Fond du Lac his sophomore and junior years, and currently for The Warriors in the league.

For Jordan, playing in the summer league helps keep him in shape for what really matters: the college team at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

“I just love playing the game,” he said. “I was surprised that people are actually playing and showing up. I didn’t think that it would be this good. [David Diver] is really dedicated with keeping scores and stats and everything. The league is doing really well.”

With the league this successful while still in its infancy, it’s likely to keep growing for years to come.

“I try to make it fun for everybody,” Diver said. “I do it for the players.”