Ignacio athletes head Down Under

Southern Ute Tribal member, Ocean Hunter at SunUte Community Center. Hunter is headed to compete in a basketball competition in Australia as part of the Down Under Sport Program. The program fosters cultural exchange in athletes through spirited competition.
Ignacio’s Elco Garcia, Jr., and Jonas Nanaeto run side-by-side in the 1,600-meter run during the San Juan Relays, hosted by IHS earlier this year. The duo will be racing in Australia this summer as a part of the Down Under Sport Program.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

For the past 30 years, the Down Under Sports program has invited thousands of talented athletes to experience the spirited competition that exists in Queensland, Australia.       The program was originally founded by George O’Scanlon, a young New Zealand man who had a love for athletics. He was particularly fond of American Football and this led to the creation of the “Down Under Bowl.” Which then paved the way for more programs.

This year, Ignacio’s very own Elco Garcia Jr., Jonas Nanaeto and Ocean Hunter are set to travel to compete in the “Down Under Hoops Classic” and the “Down Under International Games.” Garcia and Nanaeto will represent Team Colorado in the track and field competitions and the cross-country races. Hunter is expected to play in the 2019 Down Under Hoops Classic.

The Down Under sports were established to bridge the continents through the common language of sports. “This experience and the exposure will do a lot for me – I’ll be able to meet a lot of people,” Ignacio High School basketball player, Ocean Hunter shared.

The bowl was an opportunity for all the additional Down Under sports to become established. These tournaments are invitational only, recruiting the athletes who show excellence in their chosen sport to compete within the framework created by the Down Under program.

Each of the athletes chosen have to raise money to cover the cost of the ten-day cultural experience and athletic competition. Their families dedicated hours of time volunteering at fundraisers, participating in food drives, and hosting dozens of raffles to raise money for the athletes.

“The coolest part about the whole thing was that people stepped up – whatever they gave helped these boys,” Sheila Nanaeto stated, mother of Track & Field runner Jonas Nanaeto.

As each of these three Ignacio High School athletes begin to pack their bags, bid their goodbyes to their families and get ready to catch flights to Australia, they take the time to remember all the people who have helped them fundraise. “I want to thank the people who helped us fundraise — without them we wouldn’t be going,” Jonas Nanaeto expressed.

While in Australia, the three boys will have a jammed pack agenda of exercise, adventure and exploration. Each of their trips will feature a tour of the area, a visit to the wildlife sanctuary and even a day at the Great Barrier Reef. Each of the competitions will be hosted at the new Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre, in Gold Cost – Australia’s sixth largest city.

“When I first found out that I was invited I was really excited, but as the trip gets closer I’m getting a little more nervous – I’m a little worried about how I’m going to perform,” Hunter shared.

Athletes follow the international rules of FIBA while attending Down Under, which challenges them to learn a new style of play. They will also be competing for gold, silver and bronze medals similar to an Olympic format.

“Much like my cousins [Ebonee and Avionne Gomez] who went to Down Under last year for basketball – I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Hunter said. “This will set me up with some great skills.” Hunter will be entering his senior year of high school this fall.

The belief of Down Under Sports is that this forum provides athletes with an opportunity to compete head to head in the sports that they love. As an international language common to all countries around the world — sports can remove cultural and international barriers. Down Under has attracted competitors from almost all 50 of the U.S. states to participate in the tournaments.

Team Colorado will compete for medals within a two-day tournament bracket. The program emphasizes that the main aspects that the athletes leave with is cultural exchange, where they will get to know each other off the track, course or court.

Down Under’s motto is to provide athletes with opportunities to experience culture, development, and growth through sport – while forging friendships that stand the test of time.

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