“We don’t just do lacrosse. We also have speeches of the importance of the stick, the history of the game. We also touch on drugs and alcohol because being Native American, that’s one thing that we struggle with,” Miles Thompson had said after the completion of the 2017 Swarm Cherokee Lacrosse Camp.
“Swarm, TBL, and Cherokee; we all have a good relationship. We just want to keep that going, especially doing it for the younger generations of the Native youth. We’re more than happy to come down and do this for them,” Jerome Thompson had said after the completion of the 2018 Swarm Cherokee Lacrosse Camp.
For four years, the Thompson Brothers have traveled to the annual Swarm Cherokee Lacrosse Camp on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina and taught the basics of lacrosse to the youth there. The brothers also take the time to discuss their cultural sport with the children and impart the importance of remembering and honoring their indigenous heritage.
Starting the first camp | Photo Credit: GeorgiaSwarm.com
The Thompsons – Jeremy, Jerome, Miles, and Lyle – will readily discuss what their intentions are, how they want to positively impact future generations of Native youth all across the continent. And after four annual trips, the connection they’ve formed with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and its members has become spiritual.
“I would say that’s a fair way to put it,” Miles said. “Just coming down here in our fourth year in a row and getting to know each other, that’s what it brings out. It brings out how we are as a people and just acknowledging our situation, like the people from Albuquerque – they know we’re traveling far away without our families. It’s nice to see.”
The family from Albuquerque is the Sokol family. Monique, who is half-Cherokee from her father’s side and half-Navajo from her mother’s, visits Cherokee Nation annually with her mother Louise Taylor, her 12-year-old daughter Ella, and her nine-year-old son Kimo.
Jeremy, Jerome, and Miles pose with Louise, Ella, and Kimo | Photo Courtesy of Monique Sokol
It’s a distance of nearly 1500 miles, but a promise to her dying father Edward J. Taylor years ago sees the Sokols make the trip to stay connected to their homeland.
Ella and Kimo started playing lacrosse about two years ago, and Monique researched the sport in earnest.
“I didn’t realize what a connection it really made for Native Americans in general and then more specifically for us being Cherokee and having my father be a stickball player in his youth,” she said. “For me, that was kind of the real grab point for me is when I found out that it was very similar to what they play in our homeland.”
Of course, any research into lacrosse is going to lead one to find out about the Thompson Brothers, and such was the case for Monique. She discovered the annual Swarm camp, and the family adjusted their annual trip east to line up with the camp.
While they made the first day of camp in 2018, an unfortunate mishap resulted in them arriving at the last session as it ended.
“We ended up talking to the guys, and I was really crushed by the whole thing because we had made all these plans and rearranged everything, and it just didn’t happen,” Monique said. “But then I started talking to Jeremy, and him and I actually share some things in common. We had such a real nice connecting conversation, and I was talking to him, and after it was all over, I was just like, ‘You know, I guess this was really meant to be that we missed the second day so we could have this interaction.’ It made all of it worth it at that point.”
Jerome teaching cradling | Photo Credit: Roscoe Myrick
The Sokols returned for the first day of the 2019 camp on Monday, July 8. They were the first to arrive, and it seemed to them like a year had not passed between then and when they last saw the Thompsons.
“For whatever reason, I really feel like somehow we are very connected to them, because even when we saw them this time, it was just like seeing old friends,” Monique said.
Ella and Kimo practiced with the roughly 30 Native youth for two hours while Monique and Louise watched with the other adults. The Thompsons ran everyone through lacrosse drills early in the morning, closing the camp with some shots on net before discussing their heritage at the end.
Afterwards, the kids all rushed to the Swarm table to have their shirts autographed by the brothers and get pictures with them. The Sokols were the last to leave, and Louise was talking with Jeremy when she told them she wanted to bless the brothers and their family.
The brothers, their father Jerome Sr., and nephew Hunter joined hands and formed a circle with Louise, while she blessed them in Navajo.
“The gist of it was being away from the family and traveling, because they know it’s not easy to do that. It was definitely something special for us, because it’s tough for us,” Miles said.
Even those outside the circle while the blessing was being spoken could not help but become absorbed in the spiritual experience.
“Everything just stopped, and we were there in that moment,” Monique said. “Things were being said that needed to be said, and everybody who was there was blessed by that.”
Louise Taylor blesses the Thompson men in Navajo | Photo Courtesy of Monique Sokol
It wasn’t the last time over those two days the brothers would experience such a spiritual event, but that blessing kicked off the almost divine nature of the Thompson’s 2019 visit to Cherokee nation, one which included a meeting with the tribal government and breaking bread with the Snowbird community after the camp.
Louise’s blessing in Navajo was originally intended to be spoken in English before Monique asked her to do it in her native tongue. It seems like a simple ask of a person who is not a member of an indigenous tribe, but what it meant to Monique, the inherent gravitas of the blessing being in Navajo, was indescribable.
“I’ve really had to reclaim everything about my cultural identity, because both of my parents grew up in a time where they were told that they should not act Native, because it wasn’t going to help them. Their cultural identity basically was stripped from them, and they raised us the best way they could. I was raised in California; I was raised away from the reservation. My dad didn’t want us to grow up there, and neither did my mom. I knew really nothing about my cultural background, and not until I got older did I realize that that’s my responsibility and that’s my birthright to educate myself and reclaim my language and reclaim my culture.”
The Thompson’s selfless outreach, their annual visit to Cherokee and willingness to teach and have a positive impact on Native youth across North America is incredibly significant to all involved. The Georgia Swarm’s partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has created this wonderful opportunity for the Thompsons to impact future generations.
Whether the kids know what the Thompsons have already accomplished on the field is secondary. What matters most is their position as enthusiastic role models who show that no matter what they do in life, they are steadfastly connected to their indigenous roots and give back constantly so that their language and culture can survive.
The Thompsons will readily talk about their mission, and anyone involved in lacrosse has heard this from them before. But hearing it from a daughter of two tribes – the emotional tone in her voice as she recollects how the Thompson brothers have become akin to family to the Sokols – speaks volumes about the impact they are having across generations.
“None of them had to do that for us last time, they just didn’t, and they did, and that,” Monique struggled to steady her voice from becoming overwhelmed with emotion before continuing, “that did really touch me. Even if for some reason we don’t ever get to see them again, which I doubt will be the case, they are always going to be part of our family in some way.”
Sting City Memberships for the 2019-20 Swarm season are on sale now and are available by calling 844-4-GASWARM.