Editor's note: This is the first in an eight-part series profiling some of the state's basketball stars and the hoops that helped make them who they are today.
FRAZER — To Mya Fourstar, the wind-tattered outdoor hoop behind Frazer School and the six brand-new nets in the glossy gymnasium are more than props for the staggering scoring numbers she produced last year as a varsity eighth-grade basketball player.
They’re 10-foot-high symbols of the cocoon in which she shelters herself from the “drama” that engulfs so many lives on northeast Montana’s Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
And they represent a ticket out — to a college degree in one or both of her twin passions, biology and journalism.
“When I’m out on the court with the ball and my teammates, it’s like everything else is gone,” Fourstar says. “It’s something to get away and relax and let it all get out. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
The minefields Fourstar hopes to leave behind in less than four years — for a basketball scholarship at Gonzaga University, if dreams and drive fully align — require no further explanation. Alcohol, drugs, teen pregnancy and apathy toward education are pervasive on Montana’s reservations and offer a glimpse into why the girls program in the largely Assiniboine community has foundered for 15 years.
From the time she first played basketball as a second-grader at nearby Lustre Christian, and with help from a protective family, Fourstar has been determined to use the game and grades to chart a different course.
The results are astonishing by any measure, much less for a girl who has yet to take her first shot as a freshman.
Aside from maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average into high school, Fourstar burst onto the girls basketball scene last year with three 40-point games. Though the Montana High School Association doesn’t keep such data, the smooth, lean and soft-spoken guard is presumed to have set the state single-game scoring record for an eighth-grader with 50 against Dodson on Feb. 12.
“It blew my mind at first,” Fourstar, who turns 15 on Jan. 6, said of her instant success. “Transitioning from junior high school, I was nervous my first game. I didn’t know what to expect and I just went out there and played. But when I got 40, 50 points I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m really doing this.’ – not just with myself but with my teammates helping me.
“It’s still crazy to think about it.”
To her coach and “auntie”, Sasha Fourstar, what Mya began accomplishing as a 13-year-old varsity player wasn’t at all crazy.
Sasha has been there from the beginning, helping to raise Mya, who along with three of her five younger siblings lives with her grandmother, a Head Start educator for two decades. Sasha, a former Frazer basketball player whose sister is Mya's mother, said Mya's parents have been in and out of the picture while dealing with their own challenges; Mya describes them as "really athletic" and taking her to gyms for as long as she can remember. Sasha, who had a tour with the military, has provided military-esque structure for both Mya and her own daughter, Kyrsten Miller, along with another niece, Hailee Fourstar, and teammates willing to endure her arduous practices.
“I’ve watched Mya play since she was little, so I’ve seen the potential as she was coming along,” said Sasha, who is entering her third season as head coach. “It wasn’t a surprise because she works hard in practice, she’s always shooting around, she plays with boys all the time. Some people didn’t know how she would handle the transition because of the stress, but I just threw her in there.
“At first she was scared, her and the other eighth-grader (Julia Smoker), but she jumped right in there, got the ball in her hands and went to work.”
Baptism by fire was the only choice anyway.
Like many rural Class C schools, Frazer is struggling with numbers. The town, a lonely island of cottonwood trees along Little Porcupine Creek on a table-flat stretch of the Hi-Line east of Glasgow, doesn’t have much -- a small market with a single gas pump, the post office, pale blue water tower, three churches, a small grain elevator shadowing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and U.S. 2, and box-style homes for fewer than 400 souls.
The four eighth-graders who began practice at Frazer last winter were among more than 200 across Montana approved by the MHSA to play basketball and volleyball due to low enrollments and turnouts; two eventually left a team that finished 7-12 and fell short of its goal of qualifying for divisionals in part because Miller suffered a broken leg midway through the season.
Expectations are far higher and the community energized this winter with nearly everybody returning to a team led by a 5-foot-6 1/2 blur who can score every which way — on the fast break, taking a defender off the dribble or by pulling up from beyond the 3-point arc (she made eight 3-pointers in scoring 41 points against Class B Poplar).
“I cannot wait,” Mya said. “It’s going to be an amazing season.”
With such expectations comes pressure, especially in a community that reveres basketball but hasn’t known success of late. Then there’s the ubiquitous contrasting burdens of those who resent Mya’s success and others who see her as her people’s great hope.
“There’s people who want to see you rise and get out of here because there’s talent, but unsupportive people bring them down and keep them around here,” Mya said. “Same cycle. You’ve got to meet expectations and everybody expects so much of you. It’s going to be a good season, but there’s lots of pressure.”
Said Sasha: “Around here there’s a lot of negative people. I don’t know why it is. It gets frustrating at times, but I say, ‘Keep going. Don’t let them take the wind out of your sails. Shut them up by going out there and performing.’ ”
So Mya does just that, on and off the court, with the help of a regimented schedule wrapped around school, basketball and homework. Training includes joining Frazer’s cross country team as well as CrossFit sessions to compensate for her one perceived weakness, lack of strength. Sasha says Mya is routinely the first into the gym and the last out, and every shot has purpose; no goofing around.
When Mya isn’t traveling to all-star tournaments in the summer, she finds time to hang with friends who enjoy splashing in Little Porcupine Creek. Chances are, she’ll be toting her camera equipment and maybe a notepad for story telling.
To Mya, it’s all about making the right choices and avoiding the wrong crowds. It's a message she carries to her older teammates as well.
"A lot of girls struggle to keep grades up," she said. "I just try to help them maintain so they don’t fall behind, because without them we don’t really have a team. Me and Kyrsten just grew up with people that want us to keep positive and keep going and try for the best for us.
“It’s a lot. But you’ve just got to relax and think about your future. I’m doing this to go somewhere.”
That somewhere, if she could script it, is Gonzaga. It’s a dream she’s harbored since second grade, bolstered by the presence of family members in the Spokane, Wash., area. She is too young to be actively recruited, but Sasha said colleges already are reaching out.
“I get a lot of emails,” Sasha said. “I try not to let her know about it. She just needs to focus on her game. It’s not something she needs to worry about right now.”
“Right now, it’s hard to think about,” Mya said of college. “It’s a long way off.”
Yet it’s always out there, something to shoot for like those 10-foot baskets. As with all her players, Sasha is constantly preaching to her players to keep an eye on the prize.
The reminders are welcome, but unnecessary.
“Her and my daughter are both very driven young ladies,” Sasha said. “I have no doubt they’re going to succeed in life.”