by Adam Levin '94, sports information director
Most of the varsity teams at Brandeis will tell you that they are like family. For two Judges on the women's basketball team, that relationship is not just figurative. Sisters Paris '17 and Noel Hodges '18 have been playing basketball together since they were early in elementary school, and their familial connection runs even deeper.
Growing up as two of approximately 1,300 Native Americans on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, New York, it wasn't unusual for them to be surrounded by relatives. "I went to high school when there were 10 cousins in my class," says Paris. "And sports teams were always made up by more than half of my family."
The two grew up with a father who was always taking them to the basketball court on the reservation. Now when they make an on-court connection that's unexpected, their teammates chalk it up to "Rez Ball".
Noel feels even a sense of urgency on the court to end the season on a high note at NYU on Feb. 25, as her sister's collegiate career edges towards its conclusion. "It's been super emotional for me, because every time I go out there, and play in my sister's last away game or last home game against a certain opponent, I got really into it. Losses hurt a little more, but wins feel a little better."
Paris first encountered Brandeis when she was contacted by coach Carol Simon about checking out Division III. She saw it listed among the schools that recent Southampton High School graduates were attending, and the combination of the basketball and on-campus culture was attractive to her.
Noel, for her part, was interested in some Division I schools for track, and Division II for basketball, but once she was committed to hoops, it seemed like a no-brainer to join her sister. "Our parents like that they can go to one place and see both their children play," Paris says with a smile.
"And they come to every game," Noel laughs.
"We're really fortunate to come from a small community where our team was literally family and then come to a University where the team becomes like your family so easily," says Paris. "I'm grateful for the opportunity; now I feel like this is our year to really do something that hasn't been done."
Paris and Noel are well-versed in the Native culture of their small community. Noel tells the Shinnecock story of creation with ease. The two participate in dancing competitions every September at one of the oldest Powwow gatherings on the East Coast. "Our grandma always made our regalia," Noel remembers fondly.
Growing up, Paris heard the kinds of questions that you might expect to hear from classmates whose main interaction with Native Americans comes from television and the movies. But being at Brandeis has helped both sisters become more comfortable with their place in the world.
"Initially, it was just basketball," that drew Paris to Brandeis. "What's kept me at Brandeis was its ability to open my eyes to different perspectives."
"I've found myself a lot more," says Noel of her experience off the court. "I am really cognizant of where I stand in society and at Brandeis. Our Native American background has made me appreciate and recognize who I am, and I stand strong with that."
The University has started to incorporate indigenous culture into the curriculum and overall experience. Associate professor Christina Espinoza teaches a course called "Indigenous Peoples and Development: Challenges and Synergies" through the Heller School that Paris took last semester; Noel was pleasantly surprised last year that an October holiday was no longer Columbus Day but Indigenous Peoples' Day after a student-led resolution was adopted.
Both sisters are double majors in sociology and business. Noel is interested in sports marketing, while Paris, would love to combine her passion for sports with work in the financial world. She's in Brandeis's BA/MA program, so will be in Waltham for at least another year. In the long run, Paris hopes to join a college campus or a larger corporation as a diversity and inclusion officer.
"One of the reasons I want to get my master's here and eventually my MBA, is to come back to the community one day," Paris explains. Since the Shinnecock tribe received federal recognition only relatively recently, it's opened up whole new avenues to be able to give back. "Giving back is something that's important to me. I want the reservation to continue to prosper."
-- Updated, Feb. 16, 2017