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Little Priest Tribal College faces challenges after launching athletics program

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The Little Priest men's and women's basketball teams are both looking for their first wins after launching an athletics program in August. The Little Priest men's and women's basketball teams are both looking for their first wins after launching an athletics program in August.
The upkeep and maintenance of an athletic program is an enormous undertaking.

Now imagine starting a program from the ground up, every day working towards the goal of a national championship.

Back in August, Little Priest Tribal College called a press conference to announce the launch of an athletic program.
    
With campuses in Sioux City's Ho-Chunk Center and in Winnebago, Nebraska, the school had the resources, and the community support, to hit the ground running.
    
But, it hasn't come without some bumps in the road.

It's a cold January day in Winnebago, Nebraska.

But at the Winnebago Public school gym, the action is about to heat up.

It's game night for the Little Priest Tribal College men's and women's basketball teams, but it's been a long season.

Because so far, both Warrior teams are winless.

Little Priest scores the first bucket of the game, but with just seven active players, the lack of depth catches up.

And the scoreboard climbs.

The opponent, Southeast community college, pulls away in the first half, and never looks back.

Final score: Southeast 101, Little Priest 56.

The script is the same for the men's team. The Warriors put up a battle, but fall 87-80.

"We're struggling in terms of winning," said LPTC president Dr. John Jones.

LPTC president Dr. Johnny D. Jones knew in August that the launch would be an uphill battle.

"A new program takes a lot of work," said Jones. "It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes someone to be creative, innovative."

With athletic experience at four previous institutions, Dr. Jones was the man for the job, nailing down an agreement with Winnebago public school to use their facilities, accepting a membership invitation from the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference and paying affiliation fees to the National Junior College Athletic Association.

"We looked at the cost factor, and since we have great facilities, the Winnebago Public school has great facilities, I wanted to bring sports that we had the resources, the facility resources in place for first," said Dr. Jones. "That's when we decided on basketball and men's and women's track."

Basketball practices are intense - to set the tone, of the need for success.

They have fun along the way, but the focus is on progress.

"They come to practice every day, ready to practice just like I come with preparation, and we're ready to go," said men's basketball coach Nelson Wilson. "They've done the same."

Preparation - on, and off, the court.

Enrollment at Little Priest Tribal College is only about 140 students, and Dr. Jones says that their student athletes are some of the highest performing in the classroom. That academic excellence has had an impact on the athletics program - and vice versa. But that doesn't mean it's been easy for the student athletes.

"It's actually been pretty hard with all my classes and late nights," said freshman forward Dacia Gorrin. "We have late practices, and I'm kind of now just getting used to it."

"Some of the young ladies on our team are mothers," said women's basketball coach Scott Aldrich. "Some of them are maintaining full time jobs as well as basketball as well as a full load of classes, and then trying to get in the gym and work out."

And while the results on the court haven't quite been there just yet, the school is confident that success will be widespread.

"We have had a lot of preliminary conversations about adding more sports," said Jones. "You want to do it right. You want to do it at the right time. But you also want to have the plan totally in place."

With football, volleyball, soccer and more hopefully on the way, the goal is simple.

"I want to win a national championship," said Jones.

But first, the Warriors will fight to make history with their first win.

As a new athletic program, Little Priest is in a probationary period that limits them from competing in the post-season.
    
In a year, the presidents of all the schools in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference will vote on whether LPTC will receive full integration into the conference. They're hoping to gain that privilege by the 2016-2017 school year.

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