Respect the Stick: The Thompson Brothers Connect with Cherokee Youth Over Lacrosse7.27.2017
Lacrosse is one of the oldest sports, and it’s also one of the fastest-growing. For native players Jerome and Miles Thompson, who are some of the biggest lacrosse stars in the sport today, their mission is to help grow the game on Native American reservations.
Earlier this month, the brothers held a natives-only free lacrosse camp for nearly 50 boys and girls in Cherokee, NC, along with Thompson Brothers Lacrosse co-founder Bill O’Brien. The camp was the second annual convening in Cherokee, and included children who had traveled from as far away as Oklahoma to attend.
The Thompson brothers are members of the Onondaga Nation in Upstate New York. At birth, they were given traditional wooden lacrosse sticks, and were later coached by their father, Jerome Thompson Sr., who also played the game.
Along with their brother, Lyle, Jerome and Miles play for the Georgia Swarm, the reigning 2017 NLL Championship team. Their other brother, Jeremy Thompson, plays with the Saskatchewan Rush. Together, the brothers form “Thompson Brothers Lacrosse,” and are Nike-sponsored lacrosse celebrities in their own right.
From Stickball to Lacrosse
For many of the Cherokee kids at the camp, it was their first time playing lacrosse, although many of the boys had played stickball before. Lacrosse, which was invented centuries ago, has its roots in stickball–a prehistoric Native American game that was regarded as a gift from the creator and used to settle disputes between tribes. The native name for stickball, which is only played by males, translates to “Little Brother of War.”
Bill O’Brien commented on how quickly he saw the Cherokee youth picking up the game. “It’s very exciting to see, and I think it just goes to show the traditional stickball game is so closely related to lacrosse, that the skills transfer really nicely.”
More Than a Game
The two-day camp took place at the Old Cherokee High School, and was divvied up into a morning session for children between the ages of 7 and 12, and an early afternoon session for teenagers aged 13 to 17.
Members of the Georgia Swarm front office even brought the Champion’s Cup along for the kids to admire after the camp.
“It’s cool having the Thompson Brothers down and having them actually be here, to see that they’re Native American and he’s Native American and he can relate to them,” said Carrah Swimmer, who had two children participating in the camp.
Respecting the Stick
At the end of every camp, the Thompson brothers and O’Brien gathered the youth in a circle and talked to them about the importance of the game, sharing its history, as well as personal stories to help the kids play and live clean, and with respect.
“We make it a point to travel to indigenous communities throughout America because lacrosse for Native Americans is a medicine game. Some tribes lose their medicine game, if you will, and you see a lot of drugs and alcohol abuse on those reservations. We believe that if we can bring back the medicine, bring back a medicine game to a tribe, then it’ll help heal the community,” said O’Brien.
For the kids, it was a lesson in respect, and a chance to learn from their heroes.
“We talk about respect a lot,” Miles said. “Respect your stick, respect your elders, respect your opponent, respect the ref. We tell these kids that because it goes a long way. That’s the biggest thing that I hope the kids walk away with.”
“We’re here to inspire these young kids to want to be something great,” Jerome Thompson said. “We want them to want to follow in our footsteps and achieve high goals.”