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World Cup: U.S.'s Chris Wondolowski sparks soccer frenzy in Kiowa Tribe

Members of the Kiowa Tribe are thrilled to see one of their own in competing for the United States in the World Cup. Chris Wondolowski, a forward for the United States men’s national soccer team, is a Kiowa and the grandson of Oklahoma resident Bill Elliot.
BY CODY STAVENHAGEN, Staff Writer Modified: June 26, 2014 at 9:41 pm •  Published: June 26, 2014

Elliot helped spread word through the Kiowa Tribe, welcomed media opportunities and watches every moment of games with fixation. Earlier this week, Wondolowski texted Elliot from the heart of the Amazon to say thank you for putting together the Kiowa watch party.

Wondolowski’s family showed up Thursday in Lawton wearing custom shirts with a cutout of Wondolowski, along with his American Indian name and its translation. Dupoint’s 2-year-old son, Zane, ran around the room holding a miniature American flag.

While most of the family gathered and talked while watching the game, Elliot sat by himself, intently watching the game.

The U.S. lost to Germany, 1-0, but was still able to advance to the round of 16. Wondolowski didn’t play, but it didn’t have much effect on the family’s support.

Wondolowski’s Oklahoma relatives make sure to see him at least once or twice a year. And when he comes home, Cozad said you wouldn’t guess he’s a national soccer star. The family still calls him by his childhood nickname.

“When he comes home or we see him, it’s always, ‘Hey Critta,’” she said. “It’s not like he’s this big, untouchable athlete. He’s just home.”

For Elliot, that’s only another reason to be proud. The Kiowa people place great value on family, on sacrifice and on remaining humble. Even on a national stage, family members say Wondolowski has upheld those values and stayed true to his heritage.

He has “Bau Daigh” tattooed down his arm, and he remains active in American Indian groups in California. He’s even leading a line of Nike products with American Indian-inspired designs.

“I’ve got a lot of pride in his ability; that goes without saying,” Elliot said.

“But I’m just as prideful in what kind of man he’s grown up to be. He’s very honest, compassionate, congenial, good to his family. I’m equally as proud of him that way.”

More than a star

Sixty-four American Indian children took part in a soccer clinic Sunday that coincided perfectly with the Kiowa watch party.

Steve Quoetone, director of the Kiowa Nation Youth Activities Sports Club, helped add soccer to the tribe’s sports program in the past year.

More quickly than he ever fathomed, interest in the sport skyrocketed. He said Wondolowski was the sole reason.

“Two years ago, you would never catch a Kiowa watching soccer,” Quoetone said. “Soccer was almost on the same level as water polo.

“It seemed the whole Kiowa world came together to support him. That’s something that is good about our people. When we have something like this, we set aside all our differences. We set aside everything, and we help one another. That’s the glorious part about being Kiowa.”

The Kiowa Nation Youth Sports and Activities Club has given awards to its top athletes in a variety of sports for years. Sunday, it gave a different kind of award at its soccer clinic.

It was called the Wondo Award, and it went to those who showed the most effort and didn’t give up.

“I guess you could say he’s an inspiration, especially to the kids,” Quoetone said.

Quoetone said his plan for next year is to expand the tribe’s soccer league from Carnegie to Anadarko and Medicine Park. He wants each age group to have at least one team. Thanks to Wondo, it just might happen.

LeBron James and Peyton Manning remain sports heroes in Carnegie, but Chris Wondolowski is more than a sports hero. He’s a cultural icon.

“The Native Americans in relation to the general population, we’re not too numerous,” Elliot said. “To have a role model for Native American kids, plus all kids, is very special.

“Going back to Jim Thorpe, Sam Bradford, it’s very special for us to have our own successful pro athletes.”

The Kiowas are trying to get Wondolowski to come to Carnegie later this year. And if the warrior arrives over the hill, a hero’s welcome will be in order.

“We’ve already decided when he does come down, we’re going to have an honor powwow for him,” Quoetone said. “We’re going to get the whole tribe together and invite all the neighboring tribes to come and join in with us in the celebration.”