The striped men, as Harrison Dehiya calls them, tossed the ball up at half-court to start a game in last week's 67th annual Gallup Invitational basketball tournament—in Gallup, N.Mex., 130 miles west of Albuquerque—and Dehiya began not only calling the game but also preserving a language. For the past 14 years Dehiya, 54, has broadcast sports in his native Navajo to a 1,000-watt radius of the Navajo Nation along the New Mexico--Arizona border on Gallup's KGAK.
As a teen, Dehiya, a full-blooded Navajo, herded sheep in Coolidge, N.Mex., while listening to Mike Roberts calling New Mexico Lobos basketball. Dehiya wondered, Could this be done in Navajo? In the mid-1980s he had his chance to find out, splitting airtime with the station manager, who gave play-by-play in English while Dehiya figured out how to describe jump shots, fast breaks and referees in his mother tongue. "What you need only one word to say in English, you need a sentence in Navajo," he says.
Dehiya's broadcasts have drawn so many listeners that a local oldies station, KYVA, recently started its own Navajo sportscasts. Gallup resident Linda Curley-Lawrence says she chooses the Navajo broadcasts over the English ones because "the language speaks to the heart, to the soul. It's a part of you."