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After helping to revive the MHS program, Rupert Bellanger and Hekili Harry are looking to do the same at Bacone College.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Hekili Harry (left) and Rupert Bellanger (right) have each signed letters of intent to play collegiate golf at Bacone College. Located in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Bacone College is one of the oldest tribal colleges in the country.

The recently revived golf program at Madras High School is already paving a pathway for athletes to play at the next level.

Rupert Bellanger and Hekili Harry, two recent MHS grads and members of the boys varsity golf team, signed letters of intent to play golf at Bacone College in Oklahoma. The signing ceremony was held Monday, July 18, at Desert Peaks Golf Club in Madras, with dozens of friends and family members in attendance.

Bellanger and Harry went on their college visits together, looking at the Muskogee, Oklahoma-based Bacone as well as Haskell Indian Nations University, located in Lawrence, Kansas. After making the visits and taking some family considerations into account, the decision was clear.

"My grandpa went to Bacone," said Bellanger, "so that kind of swayed me." He also noted small class sizes and required tutoring as reasons behind the decision.

Meanwhile, Harry said, "Probably the biggest reason behind my decision to attend Bacone is that my dad's side of the family is from around there. Almost closer to home, having some family members there."

The distance between Madras and Muskogee clocks in at about 1,900 miles as the crow flies, but those local connections will help as Bellanger and Harry start a new chapter of their respective journeys.

This latest chapter was not exactly what either of them were expecting heading into their senior years at MHS. Both had picked up golf as a hobby and played regularly during the pandemic, but that was just a fun way to pass the time with close friends.

Then, in the eleventh hour before the 2021-22 winter sports season, MHS revived its golf program — and both Bellanger and Harry joined up, along with a handful of other friends. The team had relatively modest results on the links this past season, but those results become much more impressive when considering that MHS went without a golf team for more than a decade.

The White Buffalos were disappointed to slip to sixth place in the district tournament, but the team was only a few strokes away from finishing a few places higher. While there was plenty of cause for optimism after the season, now there is also some cause for celebration.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras High School boys golf coach Johnny Wilson (center) hopes that Bellanger and Harry can serve as good examples for younger golfers coming up through the MAC junior golf program and the MHS golf teams.During the signing ceremony, MHS boys golf coach Johnny Wilson was a couple hundred feet away on the driving range, running a practice for the MAC junior golf program. Between the young golfers just starting out and the older ones signing collegiate letters of intent, Wilson saw his big-picture vision for youth golf in Madras — a pipeline from pre-school to high school and beyond — coming together all at once.

"I think it just shows guys that it's attainable," said Wilson, speaking about the ability to parlay golf into bigger opportunities elsewhere. "If a guy can come out without a ton of experience and, in his first year of competitive golf, strike up enough interest in a collegiate program to get paid to play golf there, that's just awesome. Anyone can do it."

Harry and Bellanger are hopeful that they can be good examples for young golfers in the Madras youth program.

"The Madras golf program had a major impact on me," said Harry, noting that it gave him confidence and opened his eyes to new possibilities.

Perhaps adding to that inspiration, both Bellanger and Harry will receive athletic scholarships to play at Bacone, one of the oldest tribal colleges in the country. Competing in the NAIA, Bacone College relaunched its golf program in the fall of 2021 after dropping the sport in 2018 due to financial constraints. The Warriors struggled last season, taking fifth place out of six teams at the Continental Athletic Conference Championship.

"All Natives that go to Bacone, they get a scholarship," explained Bellanger.

As for how they will fit in with their new team, they hope to be a breath of fresh air.

"We're a new breath," said Bellanger, "a new wave."

Harry agreed, adding that playing on a team of mostly Native athletes at a school of mostly Native students will be a great environment.

As to how each athlete approaches the game, Wilson gave some insights on both players' skill sets.

"Their games are totally different," said Wilson. "Hekili is a pretty athletic guy, goes after the ball pretty hard. Rupert is a little more reserved; he kind of plods along. Rupert was more interested in the technical side. With Hekili, we worked more on course management and thinking his way through a course."

While their academic and professional careers are still coming into focus, Bellanger and Harry have a clear next step in their athletic careers at the collegiate level.

After breathing fresh air into Madras High School golf, Bellanger and Harry hope to do the same for Bacone.

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