'Black Cloud' - Navajo Boxer Inspires Film
Schroeder was inspired by what he had heard of Cal Bahe who was helping kids overcome alcohol abuse and gang violence through the sport of boxing. Schroeder has a lifelong love of boxing that began when he appeared in “The Champ” in 1978. He drove up to Chinle to meet Cal and watched the boxing tapes of his son Lowell, Cal’s other sons and non-family boxers he had trained.
“I asked if I could use their story as a launching pad for a dramatic movie,” Schroeder said. Their boxing club became the genesis for the film.”
The Republic’s Judy Nichols reports, “The foundation of the gym was poured on the spot where the corral for the family sheep used to stand. The gym is not finished. There’s no paneling on one side. A tree fell on the roof which had to be patched. The red and blue ropes of the practice ring are held together with fraying string, the carpet is patched with duct tape and insulation peers down through an unfinished ceiling.
“But, the walls are covered in glory. Family photos of Lowell’s great-grandfather Jim Damon and his father Cal Bahe hang next to posters of ring fighters. Boxing was the ticket out of trouble for Cal who at age 13 had been arrested in Holbrook, AZ. He was released on the condition that he leave town. He and his mother went to live at Fort Defiance with his grandfather Lee Damon, a former Marine, who had won all-service championships, and qualified for Olympic trials and at the time was operating a boxing gym Granddad put young Cal in the ring and brought him out of trouble with the law.”
Cal took over the boxing club in 1978 when Damon died moving it to Ganado, AZ. He moved to Chinle in 1985 and started the gym in 1995 because as Cal stated. “We were working out of high school gyms but they kept chasing us out.”
Judy, Cal’s wife, is a certified boxing judge and a social worker at the school. She keeps tabs on the sometimes 40 to 50 kids in the training program. When a kid is getting bad grades in school she tries to sort out the problems – and there can be many – alcoholism and abuse in the family, unemployment, single parenting, kids living with grandparents, gang involvement, drugs, etc.
When kids join the boxing teams, they must adhere to strict rules. They can’t be lazy and talk back. The have to do chores, be at the gym at certain times, watch their nutrition, go to bed at designated hours, do their homework, maintain their running schedules and adhere to curfew hours.
So far, the club has produced 24 national boxing champions. Lowell has won the All-Indian Nationals six times and National Silver Gloves twice and placed third in the World Internationals.
Cal, a retired national park ranger now works as a substitute teacher. “Cal and Lowell have a father-son relationship that is being replicated with Navajo fathers handing down boxing to their sons and daughters”, said Mo Smith, executive director of the Native American Sports Council. Smith said there are 65 registered boxing clubs on reservations in the country.
Lowell adheres to a strict schedule - runs 45 minutes every morning and works out at the gym for an hour every night. Cal is very proud of his son because he was never involved in gangs, doesn’t smoke or drink, makes good grades and is on the school honor roll.
No wonder Schroeder was inspired to make Lowell Bahe the role model for his film which tells the story of a Native American who overcomes adversity and searches for his identity in and out of the boxing ring.
Schroeder, a Phoenix Valley resident, emerged as a role model himself when he was at the State Capitol yesterday (May 26th) to greet the group of Navajos who had walked some 320 miles from Window Rock seeking state funding for domestic violence prevention and substance abuse treatment.
Schroeder had befriended the walk’s organizer John Tsosie and his family last year during the filming of Black Cloud near Many Farms.
He said tribes need help with economic development to end the despair associated with poverty which leads to other problems. ”The world is full of chaos and strife, the home should not be like that. It should be a place of peace.”
Black Cloud premiered at the Phoenix Film Festival on April 2nd and 3rd and was shown at the 2004 Nashville Film festival held in late April. I will run reviews of Black Cloud by film viewers and one review by a staff writer for the Nashville “Tennessean” The film will be released regionally after the Olympic games in August.
This article was edited from a story in the April 1st issue of The Arizona Republic written by their very knowledgeable staffer, Judy Nichols.
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