Dickinson High School legend to be inducted into North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame
Becki Staley, one of the most-decorated female Native-American athletes in history, will join a fifth Hall-of-Fame with her induction Nov. 18 in Jamestown.
DICKINSON – Some people have such humble starts that it would be impossible to have seen their future, even with a crystal ball, yet they change their communities irrevocably, putting themselves and their hometowns on the literal and figurative map, forever. Becki Staley is one such person as the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame prepares to welcome her “home” with open arms with an induction ceremony this November.
“It’s really exciting, anytime you get a call about being inducted into a hall of fame, it’s really special,” Staley said. “But I think, too, having four athletes now – two of them are in high-school sports and two of them are in youth sports – and so what makes being inducted into this hall of fame and the University of Florida special is just the ability to bring the family along.”
Staley’s list of superlatives is as lengthy as it is distinguished, and she is honored each year by the Becki Wells Cross-Country Invitational, which typically welcomes a massive field of some of the best regional competitors the area has to offer, and upwards of 20 schools competing each year.
Wells is Staley’s maiden name, and she currently lives in North Mankato, Minn. with her husband, Maurice Staley, who played football for the University of Tennessee from 1994 to ‘96. The Staleys have four boys: Eleazar, Ephraim, Nahshon and Nathan, and she says that having children and coaching them in sports has been a blessing in more ways than she can count.
“Having the boys also experiencing that just kind of gives them a deeper picture of what it means to be an athlete at that level,” Mrs. Staley said. “My husband played high school football and basketball, too, so he’s had the opportunity to coach the boys in different youth sports, so that’s been really fun because you get a handbag full of different situations – especially at that youth level – and I think it’s been really nice for him to not only impact our kids but have that coaching expertise, having played, and you remember your parents and how they were back when you were in youth sports.”
Staley ran track & field and cross country for Dickinson High School in the late-1980s and early-1990s, and will soon be enshrined in her rightful place in Jamestown, although she already has been recognized by other halls-of-fame along the way.
“I just can’t say enough about Dickinson, watching our kids grow up – and we love this community – and I’ve been at a couple of different colleges and my husband left college early to be a free agent, so we’ve kind of experienced different places across the country,” Mrs. Staley said. “But I’ll tell you what: To have a community like Dickinson that just embraced the gift, and I was blessed with Coach Jerry Schwartz, who gave me opportunities … I ran with the junior high when I was in sixth-grade and then he moved me up and I was a little bit thrown to the sharks.
“But I appreciate the opportunities that he gave me, because he early-on saw that there was something special; he was one of the first people that said, ‘You know what? You could probably make it in the Olympic Trials if you wanted to.’”
Schwartz returned the praise, saying Mrs. Staley was coachable and hard-working as any athlete he ever met, and he is eternally proud of all her accomplishments and the things she has accomplished throughout her life.
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with her and she opened my eyes to a lot of the things that female athletes could do,” Schwartz said. “Just everything about her was so excellent that I’m at a loss for words how to describe her.
“We had a very close coach/athlete relationship and it was pretty much year-round. The first time I could see the potential she had was when she was an eighth-grader and we ran a mile-repeat when it was about 30 degrees out – and she was in sweats and training shoes – and she ran like a 5-minute mile, and in track that translates to very fast: 4:50 or 4:40.”
After establishing herself as one of the most-decorated female Native-American athletes in American history while running track & field and cross-country on a variety of levels, from prep to professional, she was previously honored by the halls-of-fame at the University of Florida – where she ran from 1995 to ‘97 – Dickinson High School, the ND State Athletics Hall of Fame and the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame.
Throughout her time growing up in North Dakota, Staley was a 20-time North Dakota State champion in a variety of events, and graduated from Dickinson High School while holding the fastest times in the country for the high school girls 1600m and 800m in 1993, and was the US Jr. National Champion in the 1500m in ’93.
“I think once you get to that level, I had kids who would write to me and say, ‘I want to break your school record,’ or ‘I want to win state’ and just seeing somebody do those things I think goes a long way with these kids toward believing in themselves and their ability to do it, too,” Mrs. Staley said.
Mrs. Staley represented the USA in the Junior Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where she was a silver medalist, and later signed with the University of Alabama to run track & field and cross-country. She was the Southeastern Conference cross-country winner in her first season with the Crimson Tide and was the Jr. National XC champion in 1994.
Mrs. Staley earned the Commissioner Trophy Award twice while running for the Gators after she transferred to Gainesville from the University of Alabama. The switch ended up being a productive one, because the Commissioner’s Trophy goes to the highest point scorer at the Southeastern Conference Track & Field Championships, during which the Crimson Tide was a competitor. But Staley ended her career with the Gators by also winning the NCAA Div-I National Title in the Indoor Women’s mile and the Outdoor Women’s 1500m and held the school record for more than a decade at 4:12.88. She is a 10-time All-American in track & field and cross-country.
As a professional, Staley later represented Nike, Reebok and The Native American Sports Council as a professional athlete in track & field. Mrs. Staley qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Trials in track & field in the 800m and 1500m and she still holds the North Dakota state record for high school girls at 4:44.44 in the mile.
“That might be an untouchable record,” Schwartz added. “She also gave me opportunities, because of her we got to go to the Olympic Training Center when she was a sophomore or junior, because they could recognize the potential in her, also.”
Mrs. Staley said the mile record came after some success as a freshman and she had some success in the 2-mile-run. Her training leading up to the mark was so serious that she constantly challenged herself to improve every time she ran.
“I wanted to see what I could do and how far I could go, and Jerry was really good for that, we always had certain markers and I do that with my athletes now,” she said.
She qualified for the 2000 and 2004 US Olympic Trials in the 800m and 1500m runs, and Schwartz went on to say one of the distance-runner statues at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is modeled after her.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Schwartz said. “Now she’s married with kids and it’s just really gratifying to work with someone like that.”
Currently, Mrs. Staley coaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, and staying close to sports will always be a part of her family life. Mr. Staley also serves as a pastor in the religious community there., and the two have been intrinsically involved with community and sports no matter where they have lived.
“I have two children who have started running now – so they’re starting to ask questions – and of course they see other dimensions to the sport, not just being an athlete,” Mrs. Staley said. “But having a parent that coaches in the community, along with sports-ministry, too, and it’s kind of like the whole family’s involved.”
While Mrs. Staley didn’t grow up on a North Dakota reservation, the Native-American Community is very important to her, along with her heritage. She is a member of the Blackfoot and Blood tribes, and she has numerous members of her family who are deeply rooted in those communities. She worked with a grass-roots Native-American organization called “Wings of America,” which encouraged healthy lifestyles and was involved with the Nike company to spread awareness of tribal fitness in Montana, New Mexico, Minnesota and other places to work with them.
“I still have friends here in Minnesota and we met through the Wings program decades ago,” she said. “Even now, I go up north and do motivational things with the Native-American Tribal community and it’s just nice to pull back into that group.”
Meanwhile, being involved with many varied communities – while spreading awareness to others and raising their children to be mindful of the importance of standing up for others – remains a priority for the Staley family.
“My husband is African-American and he’s the former president of the NAACP here in Mankato and in Minnesota there have been some racially-charged times in the cities here,” Mrs. Staley said. “To be able to allow our kids to experience some of the protests and making stands for different causes that matter – while tying back into the Native-American community – it’s an honor, because the suicide rates, rates of alcoholism and a lot of challenging things that Native-Americans face and doing those things is just a way to give back a little bit of hope.”
Mrs. Staley will be inducted to the ND Sports Hall of Fame with Donny Schatz, a sprint-car driver from Minot, and professional baseball player Chris Coste from Fargo. The trio will be inducted on Nov. 18 at the Jamestown Civic Center.
For more information about how to donate to Wings of America, please visit https://www.wingsofamerica.org/ , and for more information about the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, please go to https://ndsportshalloffame.com/ or call 701-252-4835.