I don’t think anyone had seen Lyle Thompson smile that widely or for that long since the Georgia Swarm’s Champion’s Cup win in June 2017.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and Lyle found himself at the Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center in Atlanta. Lyle was there for lacrosse, his lifeblood, but this time, it would have a different twist from any game he had ever played.
He sat down for a while on the paper stretched out in front of the large mural that was to be his canvas, then grabbed his lacrosse stick with a plan in mind and proceeded to play some neon wall ball.
For anyone not familiar with the Onondaga native, it would seem like this was the superstar’s first time doing something this artistic. But Lyle’s roots in art run deep.
When Lyle went to the University at Albany, he originally wanted to pursue a degree in art, but family and lacrosse commitments saw him obtain a sociology degree instead. His passion for art never went away, though. As one of the founders of Thompson Brothers Lacrosse, Lyle now handles all the designing of merchandise, even designing cleats with NIKE.
When given the opportunity during the Georgia Swarm’s most recent bye week to take part in an art show in Atlanta, Lyle could not pass it up.
The Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center does a quarterly art show at Spare Time Gallery in downtown Atlanta. The art show features different sections of Atlanta’s business community and the people in those communities, how they use art in their own spare time to be creative and keep their minds healthy.
“The school trains people for the creative fields, for careers in creativity and innovation,” said Pippa Seichrist, Co-Founder of Miami Ad School and Head of Innovation and Development. “That’s why we do this gallery, because what you do in your spare time enhances what you do during the day, whether it’s being an art director or copy writer in an agency or design firm or innovation firm like Facebook, or even a player on the field.”
The art show this time focused on members in the sports business world. Employees from the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, and Atlanta United all displayed work they had done in their spare time while working full-time in the demanding business of sports.
When Seichrist heard that a World Champion lacrosse player like Lyle had a passion for art, it was a match made in heaven for the school and the Swarm.
Lyle came down for the week and sat in a few classes at the Miami Ad School @ Portfolio Center, seeing firsthand what the students were learning.
“It was a big learning opportunity,” Lyle said. “It made me want to go back to school, really, kind of fall in love with the art of everything all over again, just by seeing it. I’ve been directed in a certain direction with lacrosse and Thompson Brothers Lacrosse, limited to certain amounts of what I can design, what I can play with.”
Lyle’s wall ball performance got a special addition when local Atlanta graffiti artist and muralist Dr. Dax caught wind of the project. Lyle wasn’t expecting to do a collaborative piece, but he excitedly felt up to the challenge, starting off slow before gaining traction during the performance and turning in a masterpiece while telling his story.
“As an artist, you tell a story, and I wanted to find a way to tell a story with what I was doing up there,” Lyle said. “I did that with colors and lacrosse and a stick and a ball.”
Before Lyle’s session, Dr. Dax spent hours covering the wall with black spray paint, eventually ending with an enormous mural boldly proclaiming “PLAY” with arrows pointing to the bottom corners.
With Dr. Dax’s portion of the collaboration finished, Lyle sat down with his back to a giant graffiti mural, his trademark braid tucked into the back of his shirt. A lacrosse stick sat beside him and many different paints in front of him.
After careful deliberation, Lyle mixed the colors he wanted for his story, drenched a lacrosse ball in purple, grabbed his stick, stood and faced the mural, and played lacrosse. The ball rhythmically thudded off the black and white in front of him, always bouncing back to Lyle with a trail of color lingering in the air.
Lyle played catch with himself for an hour, picking up speed and flipping the ball behind his back as he got into a rhythm.
He started with the color purple. Being the color of the Six Nations flag and the Iroquois Nationals, purple represents Lyle’s people, where he started playing lacrosse, and how the sport is passed down as a tradition. “Lacrosse is in our blood, so I wanted to show that.”
He then dipped the ball in yellow paint and launched it beside the purple prints. The purple and yellow combined together to represent Lyle’s alma mater, the University at Albany, and its men’s lacrosse head coach Scott Marr.
“That was a highlight, a big jump for me in lacrosse, and helped build me as a lacrosse player, and to represent Coach Marr. Coach Marr’s been a huge part of my career. He was part of me as a player, so I wanted to include him in there.”
Lyle proceeded to cover the ball in blue paint. The blue and yellow together represent the Georgia Swarm. Lyle put a little more oomph into his shots on wall, getting the paint splashes to spread further at impact.
“I put a lot more around the blue, a lot more blue just to represent the Swarm and my first title, my first championship. That was intentional and to make it pop more, to make it look like a celebration, like it was when we won.”
Next, the 2017 NLL MVP lobbed a red paint-covered lacrosse ball at Dr. Dax’s graffiti. Red represents Lyle’s hometown of Onondaga, where he grew up playing for most of his life, and the Redhawks. The red also represents Native Americans.
Lyle’s final choice of the six primary colors in his performance piece is pink. It represents his two daughters, Godehaot and Yohsta, and how he felt like he was missing important time with them during his collegiate career.
“The hardest part of my lacrosse career was in college, having my two daughters, and it felt like I was barely there. They lived with me, so I’d come home to them, but when I was there, it was classes, lacrosse, classes, then I’d go home. My wife would pack me a lunch, and I’d come home to a late dinner. I felt like I had to really manage my time at a time where it was really important, and my daughters kind of taught me that. I would leave early, say my see-you-laters to them, and then I’d have to come back and put them to bed. I wanted to incorporate that. It was only a little bit of pink because it was a short time.”
Lyle also lobbed four lime green shots at the wall, symbolizing his eldest brother Jeremy Thompson of the Saskatchewan Rush, who’s primary color is green.
“He’s always been my idol, so I wanted to have him involved in that piece. There’s only four pieces, too, and that’s what number he grew up wearing, No. 4. That’s why I wear No. 4.”
Checkered lines appear intermittently throughout the art piece. Lyle would take the paint-soaked mesh of his lacrosse head and apply it to the wall to imprint a crisscross pattern.
“That’s to represent where the game has come from and Mohawk, to represent my dad – he’s Mohawk, and how you say lacrosse in Mohawk is ‘Tewaarraton.’ That’s to represent kind of where the game has come from but also the actual award, the Tewaaraton award, because I won it twice, and at one point before winning the championship with the Swarm, I would say it was the highlight of my career, winning that with my brother (Miles).”
In the bottom left, Lyle grabbed the lacrosse ball and emblazoned the art with a NIKE swoosh and TBL. He noted how being endorsed by NIKE was a significant move in his lacrosse career and how it helped him grow as a person building a brand.
When he was finished, Lyle placed his drenched lacrosse stick upright in the middle of the painting and stepped away. The black and white graffiti “PLAY” had been graffitied itself, a myriad of colors splashed against it in a way only one of the best lacrosse players in the world could do.
“It was kind of like music to watch him applying the paint as he had ideas and all, because he was applying the paint just like he would be playing lacrosse, by slinging the ball against the wall,” Seichrist said.
It was evident at Thursday’s art show how much the week meant to him and how much fun he had during his time at the Miami Ad School. Before the night was over, we had to put one thing to rest.
“No, I’m not quitting lacrosse,” Lyle said laughing. “Lacrosse is my number one passion. It always has been, even as a kid. I would come home, my brother would grab my stick at one point in my high school career because I played too much lacrosse. He’d grab my stick and tell me to do my homework, but I would actually just sit there and draw, and I’d go grab my stick. They’ve both been my passion.
“I’m going to play lacrosse as long as I can, but after being here, it makes me want to go back to school and finish it. Just seeing the kids here, sitting in some of the classes, these guys sitting through something I thought was – I hated school, but sitting through this? It’s not work. You literally get to learn some of the coolest things and play with your passions all day. I’d love to come to a school like this. I’d do it all over again.”
The rejuvenated passion in Lyle’s eyes shone brightly that Thursday night, and if he wants to pursue that path, he said his wife, Amanda, and he had already discussed it that night. There’s a Miami Ad School location in Toronto, close to his home in Onondaga. Lyle knows the importance of having a strong group of people supporting him, and Amanda wanting him to pursue his dream is the most important part of any support.
“It’s definitely an opportunity for me,” Lyle said. “It’s definitely something that’s in the back of my head right now.”
“We’d love to have him back,” Seichrist said. “We’d love to have him as a student. He fell in love with the school.”