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Mother, Daughter Prove Themselves 'Off The Rez'

Shoni Schimmel just finished her freshman year playing for the University of Louisville Cardinals, averaging 16 points a game.
Hock Films
Shoni Schimmel just finished her freshman year playing for the University of Louisville Cardinals, averaging 16 points a game.

Saturday's TLC documentary, Off the Rez, is a coming-of-age story: a drama about generations, sports, sweat, winning, losing, sacrifice, triumph and love. It's a lot to get through in 86 minutes.

Jonathan Hock's film follows the rise of Native American high school basketball star Shoni Schimmel. Her mother, Cecilee Moses, is also her coach. They moved off the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon and headed to Portland to maximize Schimmel's chances of success at a new school.

And succeed she did. In 2010, Schimmel was selected to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American Team and recruited by the University of Louisville Cardinals. She just finished her freshman year — averaging 16 points a game.

Back in Portland, Moses still coaches Schimmel's old team, the Franklin High School Quakers. She tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon she knew her daughter had talent from the first basketball tournament — when Schimmel was just 4 years old.

"I swear to God, that's the first time I knew something," she says. "This girl was gifted, because they went in, and they went to the championship, and they stomped on Shoni — I mean, they didn't beat them bad, but they beat her. And for her, that was so devastating."

"Ever since then, I've seen that fire in that girl's eyes," Moses says, "She lost, but I'm not kidding you, ever since then, she's had that drive to just become better."

Schimmel says it's hard to describe what she loves about the game. "Just having the ball in my hand, and being able to just go out there and have fun," she says. "I just love playing basketball."

The family's move off the reservation wasn't just for Schimmel; Moses wanted to prove she could coach. There was another goal, too.

"It was also a move where I could teach not just my kids, but other Native Americans that are doing the right things, to get where they want to get," Moses says. "You can get your dreams, and you can have dreams, and you can pursue your dreams."

That kind of pressure isn't lost on Schimmel, but she says she doesn't let it get to her. "I mean, I'm just playing basketball and going to school like a normal kid," she says. "Doing what I love doesn't really come with pressure."

Being a role model for other Native Americans is important to Schimmel, though. Not many of them make it off the reservation, she says, and it's up to her to take advantage of the opportunities she's been given. "I do it definitely for my family, but also the other Native American people."

As a mother, Moses says, coaching your kids is fun, but there are rules. She made a deal: "This is a job; we're going to be professional. I'm the coach; you're the player. If you want to become unprofessional and turn into the son or the daughter role, then the mother comes out and that's not pretty."

It seems to be a good deal all around; come fall, Moses will be sending a second daughter to Louisville. Schimmel's sister Jude will be the next to prove that Native Americans can succeed "off the rez."

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