Members of the Washington Stealth
and the Rochester Knighthawks, representing a number of different outreach efforts and organizations, made visits last week to three different aboriginal tribes in the Puget Sound region, giving presentations to introduce the sport to local youth and handing out nearly 200 Under Armour sticks donated by Team 22 in the process.
In the days following the Stealth’s thrilling 13-12 win over the defending champions, Washington’s Brett Bucktooth (from the Onondaga Nation) and Chris McElroy and Rochester’s Cody Jamieson and Craig Point (both Mohawks from Six Nations, both Team 22 sponsored athletes) visited three different tribal schools, giving presentations on lacrosse, the game’s history and what it means to them.
“It’s always good to give back to the kids, especially when they have reservations here that maybe can’t afford to have lacrosse,” said Point, a forward for the Knighthawks and a Team 22 sponsored athlete.
Knowing how strongly Knighthawks GM and owner Curt Styres feels about growing the game, Point said he didn’t think twice about getting involved.
“That’s Curt’s number one goal, to get sticks into the hands of as many kids on the reserves as possible, kids who don’t play. He wants to see kids playing lacrosse instead of playing video games. … So we’re just really trying to help out as much as we can. When we were growing up, we had older guys who tried to help us learn and showed us the ropes.”
The players and a number of other representatives visited the Muckleshoot Tribal Elementary School, the Nisqually tribe’s Wa He Lut school and the Payallup tribe’s Chief Leschi school. The players told the children and faculty in attendance, in some cases the entire schools, that the game represented a vehicle for achievement, for personal healing and therapy and a way to repay the Creator. They passed out lacrosse sticks and then personally worked with the students, showing them the basics of passing, catching and cradling.
In return, they were presented with gifts and, as Robert Upham says, treated like they were “NFL or NBA players.” The group received hand-made drums from administrators and Nisqually tribal council members at the Wa He Lut school, and at the Chief Leschi School, Styres was wrapped in a new Pendleton blanket — a sign of the Payallup tribe’s appreciation for what he gave their community.
Upham, one of the Stealth’s appointed Native American liaisons, cheered the administration at each school, specifically the three principals, saying that they went out of their way to welcome the players and assemble their student bodies for the presentations. Additionally, he said, tribal council members also helped bring the engagement to fruition.
“If there are other tribes or reserves that would want this sort of visit, these school’s laid the framework for how it should be done,” Upham said. “They gave them accord. They did this proper. They understood that these were Indian champions coming to their communities.”
By the makeup of the group, it represented the efforts of additional outreach efforts, including Right to Play, the Stealth’s Sticks to Schools program and the Blue Pony Native youth lacrosse program, founded by Upham.
McElroy, an athlete ambassador for Right to Play and an active member of the Sticks to Schools program, pointed out that the players came together for something important not long after battling on the floor of the Comcast Arena — a common theme in lacrosse.
“It was great that we could all come together to share the same vision, the same goals and mission, and create an opportunity for the Native kids in the community by teaming up and bringing the game to them,” says McElroy, now in his ninth season in the NLL.
McElroy said that, as a non-Native, he feels driven to somehow give back to the game, and by sharing it with the very people who helped bring it to him, he feels he comes closer to repaying what it’s done for him.
“To have an opportunity with the Native youth is the most respectful thing I can do to show my appreciation, and I am passionate about it and I look forward to continuing to pay the game back in the future.”
The outreach effort began with the Stealth as far back as last year, but it really picked up steam with the NLL’s opening contest between the Stealth and the Knighthawks. Styres had stepped in to purchase tickets to be passed out to members of aboriginal tribes in the Everett area. Led by Upham and Dave Waterman, the push brought more than 1,000 people from a long list of different tribes and reserves to the matchup, exposing many of them to the game for the first time.
“We kicked butt,” Upham says of the effort, thanking Styres for his generosity and applauding the effort of American Indigenous Consultants, a company working with tribal communities on projects like grant writing, non-profit start-ups and more. AIC provided in-kind services to the outreach effort totaling nearly $4,000.
“It’s those kinds of partnerships that make our programs strong,” Upham said. “This was all about community and team work.”
Jenny Sherpa, co-manager and a consultant at AIC, along with the company’s owner and executive manager, Lorna Onsel, were credited with donating a great deal of personal time to help make the effort a success.
“We believe that this is an important game and goal to bring a traditional game back to the people,” said Sherpa, whose father is from the Quechua tribe in South America. “We believe the game will benefit people’s spiritual and physical health and wellbeing, and continue to build team and tribal spirit and intertribal relations.”
The effort to grow lacrosse in the region will continue, Upham says, thanks in part to another few hundred Under Armour sticks that were donated by Team 22 and Styres.
“Curt really went the extra measure by doing all of this with the tickets and the sticks,” Upham says. “Overall, this was highly successful.”
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