MESWAKI SETTLEMENT, Iowa – Others beg to differ, but in Dina Keahna’s mind, this is nothing extraordinary. The only time she ever really thinks about it is when forced to do so.
When a reporter asks to do a story, or right before a game, when opposing coaches come over to introduce themselves. It’s usually assistants Todd Dale or Brian Murphy who get the first handshake.
There’s no offense intended. It just never occurs to them she could be the person in charge.
“I think they’re kind of surprised,” Keahna said. “A few of the referees (have been) surprised, too. They’ll still address the assistant coach first, kind of like saying ‘You can’t be the head coach.’ Which is expected.”
Make no mistake, everyone is getting to know about Keahna and her Meskwaki Settlement School Warriors. They are creating a story that is, whether she’ll admit it or not, extraordinary.
It’s not just that the 51-year-old is the only woman head boys’ basketball coach in the state. That’s big enough.
It’s also that Meskwaki – which only has had an IHSAA-sanctioned program since 2009 – has such a good team, one that’s 11-1 and ranked 10th by The Gazette/Iowa Prep Sports in Class 1A. Beat Waterloo Christian on Friday night and the Warriors already will set a school record for wins.
“It’s just the skill that we have and the way Coach has been adding the fundamentals, making sure we make fewer mistakes and emphasizing defense,” said starting forward Darrion Murray. “I don’t want to say this is a surprise for me. For others, it might be. I’ve always wanted to be in a position like this.”
Just like Keahna has always wanted to be in her position. A fellow member of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, she played six-on-six basketball at South Tama High School.
It was on to Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kan., then the Navy for 13 years before finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and earning a master’s in counseling. She lived and taught in Hawaii until deciding four years ago to return home.
Keahna was Meskwaki’s junior varsity coach until being promoted to head varsity coach this season. Dale, also Meskwaki’s athletics director, said the decision to hire her for the job was easy.
“I was looking for the best candidate, and that was her, by far,” he said. “She hasn’t let us down in any capacity. When you sit down and talk to her, she has an astounding knowledge of the game. Her relationship with the community is another major attribute.”
“It’s an honor to play for her, really,” said guard Royce Timberwolf. “I’ve never had a woman coach before. It’s great that we’ve been able to go on a winning streak with my coach.”
Meskwaki doesn’t have a physically large team, and the Warriors are young, with only two seniors. The leading scorer is sophomore Allis Tahahwah.
The junior class and sophomore class grew up playing a lot basketball together and have meshed well. And everyone has bought into Keahna’s coaching philosophy.
“Sound fundamentals and defensive play. To capitalize on those,” she said. “Here, they seem a little more competitive. That’s the feeling that I like, the competitive feeling. Being able to compete with all the other schools in the Iowa Star Conference, being able to get into a position to win a game. More or less to improve on how we play. That’s my focus most of the time. How are we playing?”
“The boys have responded to her very well,” Dale said. “There are days, as there are with any coach and any team. But they respect her.”
They agree with Dale on that. Being one of them helps.
“I would probably trust one of my tribal members more than just some random hire,” Murray said.
“Most of us do respect her,” Timberwolf said. “The younger ones, maybe not so much. But the rest of us, yeah. I thought (her coaching) was bound to happen because she’s been a good coach the past couple of years, and I liked her. My reaction was positive.”
Keahna appreciates the support she has gotten from her administration and community. Especially appreciates the support she has gotten from her team.
That team includes nephews Demarce and Drake Keahna, though she considers them all family.
“Really, in our community, everybody is my nephew,” she said. “The expectations are the same for all of them. Being a close-knit community, we think of each other as close relatives.
“I’d like to think that me being a female coach doesn’t matter. It says a lot for the boys that they haven’t given me any indication that they disrespect me. I applaud them for the things that they are doing. That speaks volumes about how they’ve responded to what we’ve asked them to do.”