After many sports programs were canceled because of the pandemic, it was a great benefit for local youth to have an outlet offered to them by Inter Tribal Sports. The Temecula-based nonprofit organization is offering a cross-country season and about 25 tribal members from the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians signed up to be included.

Upcoming competitive meets have been scheduled at various local reservations, and Soboba is hosting one Saturday, Feb. 20. The only eligibility requirements to participate on Soboba’s coed team are to be an enrolled member or a community member between the ages of 5 and 18.

Head coach Ricardo Macias, who is the lead recreation aide for Soboba Parks & Recreation, said the sport had a team last year and about 10-15 members of this year’s team are returning cross-country runners.

“I love that this sport brings kids out of the house to participate in something, especially given the pandemic we’re in,” Macias said. “We are focusing on their endurance and stamina, making sure they’re running and trying to progress distance-wise each and every practice.”

Suwoswush Resvaloso, 6, runs with Kali Red Fox, 7, during a recent practice of the Soboba team that is participating in this year’s Inter Tribal Sports’ cross-country season. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Twice weekly practices are held at the Sports Complex at 4 p.m. so as not to interfere with school class time, which is currently online for all students in the area. Macias said learning good form is the goal of watching the youth closely during practice sessions with the help of assistant coaches.

“We like to make sure the kids are running with a good posture and making sure their heads or shoulders aren’t bobbling around,” he said. “For the little ones, it comes so natural for them because they’re still in tune with their primitive instincts.”

During a recent practice, the group was guided through some warmup exercises and stretching moves before being divided into age groups with the younger runners from 5 to 7 circling the perimeter of the softball field several times. The older athletes had to circumvent the entire complex about five times, with each full lap measuring about a half mile.

Suwoswush Resvaloso, 6, Tónla Hurtado Laurenzana, and Kali Red Fox were among the younger runners whose energy and enthusiasm kept them going strong even after a few laps around the field, Macias said.

“My mom wants me to start running with her and wants me to get stronger,” Kali, 7, said.

Tónla’s mother, Sasha Hurtado, said it is the first organized sport that came up that her 5-year-old could join. She showed her daughter videos of last year’s team, so she’d know what to expect.

Photo 5: Head coach Ricardo Macias, right, leads Soboba cross-country team members in warm up exercises and stretches at a recent practice. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

“She’s finally old enough to participate,” Kelli Hurtado said about her granddaughter.

Staying together as a group were Nowaniiki Resvaloso, 10, Akwaalimay Resvaloso, 11, Nephreteri Salinas, 15, and Nashashuk Resvaloso, 16, three of whom participated last year. They all welcomed the idea of having a positive activity that gets them out of the house and keeps them moving.

Established in 2002, Inter Tribal Sports’ mission is to unify tribal youth and communities through structured athletic programs while providing necessary resources and developing a strong foundation in culture, leadership and wellness.

The organization features year-round youth sports and enrichment programs designed specifically for Southern California Native American communities. Inter Tribal Sports provides athletic opportunities and values education in conjunction with cultural, physical, mental and spiritual development.

Kali Red Fox, left and Tónla Hurtado Laurenzana enjoy taking laps around the Soboba Sports Complex softball field during a recent practice for Inter Tribal Sports cross-country Team Soboba. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Inter Tribal Sports furnishes youth and communities with occasions to build self-esteem, respect, acceptance and sportsmanship through fun and positive activities, while developing athletic skill and forming friendships, guided by appropriate role models in a sound, structured program that is nonprofit, volunteer-oriented and open to all tribal youth.

More information on Inter Tribal Sports can be found at http://www.intertribalsports.org or by calling 951-719-3444.