Saturday, April 23, 2016


Kristen Schrag is going home.

The Kansas farm girl who followed her faith and came to the Hopi Mission School in the village of Kykotsmovi in Northern Arizona six years ago is spending her final weeks at a school she has helped define and build (literally) and a student body that she teaches, coaches and inspires daily.

Kristen has been a teacher, a counselor, has coached basketball, volleyball and cross country. She has been the Athletic Director of the school and this year added to her clustered resume’ the title of League President, which oversees the competition between the younger athletes in all the schools in a two hour radius.

The Hopi Mission School sits off of highway 264 in Northern Arizona, halfway between Tuba City and Keams Canyon. There is one swing set, two buildings of a handful of classrooms and only 16 total staff. This year, the enrollment is around 50, down from last year because the school couldn’t figure into the budget a bus, which could bring 30 or more students to school a day. The cost of a bus driver is one of the biggest expenses the school would have had to absorb and this year’s budget wasn’t kind.

The school gets its operating budget from donations. Tuition for the students is free and they are given a first rate education in a land that is in dire need of it. The Hopi and the Navajo tribes have land interspersed within each other, and both tribes are battling overwhelming issued of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, gangs, STD’s and poor nutrition. The teachers at the Hopi Mission School work tirelessly to help curb this tragic tide.

Kristen came to Kykotsmovi to teach 6 years ago. She received modest housing and a roommate. She was given a small food allowance and the promise of $60 a month for personal expenses, often times spent on her students and athletes. If she stayed another year, she was promised $70 a month. No one at the Hopi Mission School is in it for the money!

Kristen’s Dad Wayne was a volleyball player in and coming out of college. He ran his Kansas farm and would play when he could. He introduced Kristen and her sister to the game, coaching them in Club and even trucking them hours away to see the AVP stop in Texas one year. Kristen’s memories of her Dad and volleyball are intertwined and her deep blue eyes sparkle at the mention of seeing him soon.

A muscular blonde sprite of an athlete, she loves to run the trails around the school and hikes and runs around, over and through mountains that many of us would look at as tourists. She played high school and college volleyball at Bethel College in Kansas. When she got to Kykotsmovi, she got her feet wet in a culture foreign to her, but one she embraced quickly. Her love of sports translated to her basketball team winning the League in her first year coaching. She worked to shore up a solid cross country program, working with her athletes on effort and persistence; skills they would need growing up on the Reservation and assimilating to life off it.

Her love for volleyball saw her reach out to USAV some years back. She ran clinics, put together teams and helped train players and coaches. She even helped put together a Friday night open gym that would see adult, high school and college players (and non-players) battle till sometimes 1 or 2 a.m. Some of these players travelled two hours or more one way for a chance to play in her Friday nights.

Kristen is engaged to a man she’s known for years but only began talking to last summer. She is excited to being her new chapter in life but will always have a little bit of the Hopi Mission School in everything she does. Her students don’t know she’s leaving yet and her face scrunches at the thought of having to tell them. Such is the hardship when you pour your heart into your work.

Tonight or tomorrow night, many of us will go to practice and go through the motions. Our check awaits us at the end of the month, our fees for our private lessons helping to finish off our car payment or fund our Saturday night out.

Think back to that time that you began to coach. You didn’t do it for the money. You didn’t even worry about getting paid. You did it for the satisfaction: of seeing maybe your daughter, your athletes getting better and maybe winning some tournaments, to feel yourself getting better at something you genuinely enjoyed and maybe, just being a role model in the lives of kids that experience that void.

Ask yourself this question. Would you plan and go to practice tonight if there WASN’T any money attached to it? Would you help a neighbor or a girl on your team without charging them a private lesson fee? Would you get up early and make an hour drive to show up on Saturday for your tournament or would you sleep in?

Kristen is an eye opener for those that are in youth sports for the paycheck. Rising club fees, tournament fees, travel fees, etc. Our sport has become a sport of the entitled and the socio economically enhanced but it doesn’t need to be. The Starlings Program, for example, helps clubs in disadvantaged areas put together teams and clubs and helps with fees but rarely will their coaches get a paycheck.

People like Kristen see how a simple volleyball clinic might be able to change lives and directions: how something as simple as giving young people more opportunities without a bill attached can maybe help ease them into a new direction. Small gestures, a little extra work and (in what should be an example for our athletes) striving to get the most out of a situation instead of scheming to get away with the least effort and hassle. 

Kristen will leave the Hopi Mission School this summer having made an indelible mark on a generation of kids, athletes and families. Once back in Kansas, she will marry and help manage a farm but she will, of course, get involved again: coaching volleyball and/or cross country, playing in adult leagues (maybe with her Dad?) and inspiring those around her to make a difference in the lives of the kids around them.

Kristen and people like her should be the norm, not the exceptional. What can you do tonight…this week…this month to emulate her?

Kristen, for the reasons above and so many more, kwakwhay.