The NLL Stays True To Lacrosse’s Native American Roots

    Last June, Lyle Thompson assisted his brother Miles for the championship-winning goal which delivered the Georgia Swarm’s first National Lacrosse League Champions Cup.

    Georgia swept the Saskatchewan Rush in the best-of-three series, with Lyle being named the Champions Cup Most Valuable Player. 

    Relive the 2017 NLL Champion’s Cup Final

    Game 2 of the 2017 Champion’s Cup Final between the Georgia Swarm and the Saskatchewan Rush played in front of 14,000+ in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan may have been one of the most exciting games in NLL history, featuring some of the best players in the game today. Relive all of the incredible action right here.

    “Our main focus this year is getting back on track and maintaining the same attitude and energy, doing things the same way we did last year,” said Lyle. “After winning the championship, there are elevated expectations. We’re not going to get anybody’s ‘B’ or ‘C’ game, we’re going to get every team’s ‘A’ game. In our locker room, we’re trying to bring the same passion we brought last year, and we believe good things will happen from that.”

    Those good things are not only in store for Thompson and the Georgia Swarm, but for the National Lacrosse League as a whole, and for the larger sport in general.

    UAlbany Sports on Twitter

    Former UAlbany standout Lyle Thompson has been named the 2017 MVP of the National Lacrosse League. https://t.co/JmG9fCDDPh

    ***

    The NLL’s origins date back to the rebirth of major professional box lacrosse in 1986 with the formation of the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League, which soon morphed into the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. In 1997, it was reconstituted with a new name, the National Lacrosse League.

    Box lacrosse, the indoor version of the game, originated in Canada, where it remains hugely popular, in the 1930’s. 

    But the origins of lacrosse stretch back much further, with today’s version evolving out of games played by various Native American communities centuries ago. 

    The Onondaga called it “men hit a rounded object”. The Eastern Cherokee referred to it as “little war”. In the Mohawk tradition, it was called “little brother of war”. Other tribes had other names for the game, which is said to have originated in the 1100’s. It is widely recognized as America’s oldest surviving sport and was most popular around the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic seaboard and what is now the American South.

    Traditional games were major spectacles that could last several days, with as many as 100 to 1,000 men from opposing villages participating, on open plains where the goals could range from 500 yards up to six miles. It served a number of purposes, with some games played to settle tribal disputes. It was also used as a training mechanism to build up stamina and toughen young warriors up for combat, or for simple recreation. 

    The Medicine Game: Four Brothers, One Dream – Film 1 of 4

    This first episode in the series introduces brothers Miles and Lyle Thompson and looks back at their unique upbringing, and explores how it fostered two of the top college lacrosse players of all-time. A film by Lukas Korver and Jason Halpin Orange Ox Films 2016 “The Medicine Game” DVD is available for purchase at http://shopvisionmaker.org.

    But most importantly, it was played out of cultural pride and for religious reasons, as some said “for the pleasure of the Creator”, and for collective prayer.

    The first westerners to encounter lacrosse were French Jesuit missionaries in the 1630’s and the game was later codified with rules in the 1860’s by a Canadian dentist. By the 20th century, high schools, colleges and universities had adopted the game as a league sport.

    ***

    The roots of lacrosse tie deep into the history of the Native American culture, NLL Commisioner Nick Sakiewicz said as the league commemorated Native American Heritage Month in November. We are very proud of the rich diversity found throughout the NLL. Today, the modern NLL benefits from numerous Native North Americans playing key roles in ownership, as players and club executives working to expand the League. We are honored to be affiliated with this great culture and represent the rich heritage in the National Lacrosse League. 

    Over the past decade, the Native American presence in the NLL has grown by leaps and bounds, and not just on the field. 

    The Medicine Game: Four Brothers, One Dream – Film 2 of 4

    Miles Thompson tells the story of growing up in the shadow of three lacrosse star brothers and how the struggle of proving the doubters wrong overcoming weight issues pushed him to the top of the lacrosse world. We follow Miles training with his brothers on the Onondaga Nation to playing in his first professional lacrosse game in Minneapolis, MN.

    Curt Styres of the Mohawk tribe became professional sports’ first Native American owner when he spent $5.5 million to purchase a majority share of the Rochester Knighthawks franchise in 2008. They would go on to become the first team in NLL history to win three straight titles, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. 

    And in 2014, The Mohegan tribe bought part-ownership of the New England Black Wolves. 

    As a child growing up on the First Nation reservation, Canada’s most populous, Styres watched as his mother went to school during the day and work at night, taking on seasonal employment on local farms when the time came each year. That work ethic made a lasting impression on him.

    “My father passed away in 1963 and my mother was always working to support us,” said Styres. “One thing that really rings true to me today is she told us, ‘I’ll give you what you need. You won’t get what you want. But you’ll have the opportunity to open the doors and work for whatever you want.’ And that’s what we did.”

    As a kid growing up, he shared a 12-by-20-foot home with his mother and siblings that was a former army barracks. It lacked indoor plumbing. Outside of playing sports, he left the reservation to help the family out by picking berries. Later, he traveled as an ironworker. 

    He made his fortune in the tobacco business, but never forgot where he came from and the role that sports played in forging his vision.

    The Medicine Game: Four Brothers, One Dream – Film 3 of 4

    This episode focuses on a single brother, this time Lyle. See Lyle at his college apartment studying for finals, walking around campus, and going to practice. This episode presents the many sides of Lyle, for he is much more than just an athlete and lacrosse legend.

    “When I was younger, I played hockey, lacrosse, football, basketball and ran track,” said Styres. “I know it was tough on my mom and my siblings, because there was only so much food on the table. They made sacrifices so that I could enjoy playing sports.”

    He was later determined to make some sacrifices for others. Once established as a successful businessman, he started the Dreamcatcher Fund with the goal of helping First Nations people throughout Canada pay for education and athletics. 

    “My partners and I co-founded Dreamcatchers, and for 13 years now we’ve helped thousands of Natives across the country follow their dreams,” said Styres. “We put in millions to help them along their way, whether it be through sports or schooling, to provide opportunities to take a look and see what’s out there in life.”

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    In 2002, he purchased a share in the Six Nations Arrows Express, a junior lacrosse team, and hired trainers, nutritionists and tutors for his players, in addition to building the 2,600-seat Iroquois Lacrosse Arena for them. By 2008, 15 of his former players were enrolled in college, including Sid Smith, who won a national championship as a defenseman  at Syracuse.

    “Everybody helps everybody to accomplish their goals,” said Styres. “It’s a common effort in our community to help our athletes however we can.”

    ***

    Imagine having never seen Michael Jordan play basketball. Well that’s what it’s like if you’ve never seen Lyle Thompson play lacrosse. 

    Nike N7 Collection – Lyle Thompson

    Inspired by Lyle Thompson, Iroquois Confederacy Ambassador, and his Native name Deyhahsanoondey, the Nike N7 collection draws influence from the hawk that flies over us and sees all. See how Lyle inspires future generations on and off the field through sport. Gear up with Nike N7: www.nike.com/n7

    His tribal name is Deyhasanoondey. It translates into English as “He’s flying over us.” 

    And Lyle is flying over the game right now in ways that many say they’ve never seen before. 

    He grew up on a reservation just south of Syracuse, New York and belongs to the Onondaga, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. He practiced and honed his game, not on junior teams or traveling to compete in elite camps, but by playing in the backyard with his brothers, similar to the one-on-one games that Jordan would play in his own backyard against his older brother. 

    Jerome Thompson Sr., their father, played indoor box lacrosse for the Iroquois Lacrosse Association. He trained his four sons with wooden sticks and a wooden box with a round hole in the middle barely bigger than the ball itself that served as their net.

    The Thompson brothers – Lyle, Jeremy, Hiana and Miles – are all professional lacrosse players today.

    Miles Thompson 2017 NLL Highlights

    Miles Thompson put up a career high in goals with 32 in 2017, a number of them being highlight reel markers. Miles also added the Champion’s Cup winning goal in overtime vs. the Saskatchewan Rush. Watch Miles Thompson’s 2017 highlights right here. Produced by Tyson Geick. Official YouTube of the NLL.

    “I’ve loved this game since I could walk,” said Lyle. “With lacrosse being a part of my culture, that’s played a significant role in my passion towards the game. Growing up, being Native American, you’re taught a different way to play lacrosse. Creativity is a huge part of my game, it’s a freelance style of playing that I was taught. You get creative with the stick, creative with the ball. That’s the way I’ve always played, and nothing’s changed for me from high school, to college and now the pros.”

    Lyle has been a mythical figure in the game going back to his high school days, when many assumed that he’d attend nearby powerhouse Syracuse. After all, he’d attended games at the Carrier Dome as a kid and the Orangemen had a history dating back to the 1950’s of embracing talented players from the reservation, including his older brother Jeremy, who played there. 

    But he and his other brothers wanted to do something different, go somewhere where they could establish a new and lasting legacy. And they did just that at the University of Albany, a school with very little tradition or national profile in the sport. But that soon changed upon their arrival

    Lyle went on to set the college lacrosse world on fire with his on-field exploits at Albany, eventually setting the record for the most career points in Division I with 400 and the most career assists with 225. 

    “My experiences at Albany were fun, I learned a lot from it,” Lyle said. “I hope the people around me who witnessed what happened there learned a lot too. It was a special experience because we were given the opportunity to share and grow the game.”

    He shared the 2014 Tewaaraton Trophy, the sport’s version of the Heisman, with his brother Miles. They became the first Native Americans to ever win the award, which recognizes the country’s most outstanding college lacrosse player. Lyle won it again in 2015, along with twice winning the Turnbull Award as the top collegiate attackman. 

    The Medicine Game: Four Brothers, One Dream – Film 4 of 4

    This episode looks to the future of the four Thompson brothers. Find out how the Thompson Brother Lacrosse brand was created and the ongoing construction of the Thompson family compound on the Onondaga Nation where all four brothers plan to live with their respective families.

    “It’s an honor for people to say that I could possibly be one of the best players to ever play the game,” said Lyle. “I’m still learning and growing. People are learning more and more about the game as it develops. The cool thing is that I’m able to teach someone who’s been around the game for 60 years something new, something they’ve never seen before.”

    But the accolades will never go to his head, because he plays the game with a far greater purpose than being recognized as the possible G.O.A.T.

    “In high school, I remember looking in a magazine and seeing myself ranked among the top players as ‘the team of the next decade,'” said Lyle. “I was only a sophomore, and I was being compared to great college and pro players. It’s been cool to look at, but it’s not something that I think about. That’s not what it’s about for me. Every game to me is going back to my culture, giving thanks for what I have, giving thanks for my opportunities.”

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    “Lacrosse is viewed as this rich, white, preppy sport,” he continued. “But that’s not the case. Native Americans are surrounded by communities that don’t have a lot. For many, it’s not about club leagues and travel teams when you’re young, it’s about loving the game and keeping a stick in your hands. That’s what it was for me and my family. To really be good, it’s just a matter of kids grabbing their sticks, because you can use that stick as a vehicle. That’s what happened for us. And we hope to influence other people to do the same. There’s a connection between lacrosse, my history and my culture. Lacrosse didn’t introduce me to my culture, my culture introduced me to lacrosse.”

    Thompson Trio on ESPN’s #SCFeatured; Spirit Of The Game

    Native American brothers dominate collegiate lacrosse. Their Onondaga (Haudenosaunee) Native American heritage and connection to Lacrosse makes them true warriors. The Thompson Trio (Miles, Lyle and Ty) dominated NCAA lacrosse this season. They play for the University of Albany, the trio led the nation in scoring!

    ***

    The National Lacrosse League is gaining momentum, growing every day with its digital-first broadcast approach and its exponential growth potential, which is obvious when you consider the two newest owners of expansion franchises are Comcast and Joe Tsai of Alibaba. The league adopted a digital-first approach last year and its Twitter game of the week averaged 344,000 viewers in its inaugural season. 

    • The NLLs revenues grew 11% last year. Lacrosse, overall, has seen 12 consecutive years of growth with numbers increasing by at least 20,000 participants each year and it is the fastest growing sport in the athletics-rich state of California. The NCAA has experienced a 33% rise in the number of teams playing the sport over the last five years while theres been a comparable increase of 27% on the high school level. 

    “What’s happening right now in our 32nd season is really exciting,” said NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. “There’s been tremendous momentum over the last year and a half or so. We’ve launched NLL TV, have our Twitter Game of the Week, and recently announced a distribution partnership with CBS Sports, which will be airing our games this year for the first time. And we’ve added two new teams in San Diego and Philadelphia that will begin play next year. So it’s been quite a busy offseason.”

    UHWK Player Cam Georgia Swarm’s Lyle Thompson

    Georgia Swarm’s Lyle Thompson wore the UHWK Player Cam when they played the New England Black Wolves!

    “We’re coming off a season where we had substantial attendance growth, and we’re looking to replicate that to new levels,” Sakiewicz continued. “And we’re really proud of the game’s heritage and North American Native culture, along with our ownership diversity and the number of great Native athletes that play in our league. What’s great about lacrosse is that it’s more than just a game. In the Native culture, it’s called ‘The Medicine Game’. They’ve long used the game to bond and heal themselves. And the game is part of a family, whether it’s the Native population or the non-Native population. And that gives the sport much more meaning.”

    ***

    On Saturday, the Georgia Swarm beat the Vancouver Stealth 16-12, improving to 3-3 at this early stage of the season. 

    The Swarm raced out to a 5-1 lead, but the Stealth tied the score at 9-9 with 12:36 left in the third quarter. 24 seconds later, Lyle Thompson did what he does and put his team ahead for good. Georgia led 10-9 after three quarters and never looked back. Lyle finished the game with three goals and three assists. 

    “In our locker room, ego is a big word that we talk about,” said Lyle. “We talk about leaving your ego outside the room and off the floor. My main thing is that I want people to see that I’m giving it everything I have. I’m enjoying the moment I’m in and no matter what happens, I stay positive.”

    2017-2018 NLL Season: Today is Our Day

    Nine NLL teams will return to the floor in December in search of one goal: winning the Champion’s Cup. Who will take home the title? Get excited for the fastest game on two feet. Official YouTube of the NLL. Visit http://www.NLL.com and http://www.NLLTV.com to find out more about the National Lacrosse League.

    If you’re new to lacrosse, and specifically the NLL, it’s about time you buckled your chinstrap and took a deep dive, especially if you love sports. It’s been described as the fastest game on two feet, a game whose lineage and history extends back hundreds of years, a sport that is electrifying to watch.

    “If you enjoy the physicality of football, the finesse of basketball or the precision of hockey, you’ll love the NLL,” said Sakiewicz. “It has every bit of all those aspects and it’s uniquely skillful. It’s really hard to describe in words. You really have to see it, and I’m really excited about our link to the game’s cultural heritage, the direction we’re going, and where we’re heading.”