In the Thompson family vocabulary, there might not be a more important word than family.
The four Thompson Brothers – Jeremy, Jerome, Miles, and Lyle – have achieved a significant portion of their popularity from the rarity that is four siblings playing a sport at its highest level and doing so successfully. Playing their cultural sport together is second nature for them, a connection born from blood, time, passion, and respect, handed down from their parents and passed on to their own children.
That family circle stretches outside of the confines of blood, to other indigenous tribes and the Georgia Swarm. For the third annual Georgia Swarm Cherokee Lacrosse Camp in Cherokee Nation, the Thompsons were able to bring their families down with them from Onondaga to see the brothers at work and spend even more time together.
“(Swarm owner and general manager) John (Arlotta) always says it: family first,” Miles said. “That’s what it feels like this week. We’re allowed to bring our family down here. He helps us out a lot, and that’s why I love it here (with the Swarm). Family first.”
The Swarm – in partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Thompson Brothers Lacrosse, and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation – hosts this Native-only, two-day youth camp on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina every year, and 2018 was its highest attended camp yet.
Over 120 kids over two days traveled from as far as Oklahoma and New Mexico to learn from the best Native American lacrosse players in the world.
“I like coming down here, teaching the game,” Jerome said. “Not a lot of these people know our game of lacrosse (in Cherokee). It’s fun teaching it to the new people who are just trying to pick it up.”
With stickball being the Cherokee’s cultural sport, lacrosse is still unfamiliar to Cherokee youth, although not as much as it was three years ago. The Thompsons use the clinic to spread their historical sport and teach the fundamentals to a new generation, impacting them with positive role models and excellent family values.
On Tuesday, July 24, two different age groups learned the basics of lacrosse at the Birdtown Rec Center. A number of the faces there were familiar, many having made every Swarm Cherokee camp, but new children still showed up to see and learn from the Thompsons.
The next day, the Thompson Brothers traveled to the Snowbird community in the Cherokee reservation. At the Snowbird Youth Center an hour away from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Hotel where the Thompson family was staying, the four brothers were introduced to a whole new host of kids and able to introduce them to their cultural sport.
Following that camp, the entourage traveled back to Birdtown Rec Center for the final camp, running through more advanced drills before finishing the event with giant games of lacrosse. The Thompson’s own kids participated, leading the game for the newly educated.
Before and after each clinic, the brothers say a few words, educating the kids on lacrosse, its cultural significance, how the Thompsons play in honor of the creator, and pass on their values to the children.
How the Cherokee kids are playing reminds Lyle of how he and Miles played at the University of Albany, very aggressive and free.
“That’s what I’ve seen here, just the freeness in the kids and how they were able to pick the game up and run with their strengths, a lot of the things we talked about,” Lyle said. “Overall, I always like coming down here. It’s always a lot of fun, and I’m seeing familiar faces. It keeps me coming back and keeps me excited to come back every year.”
After the two-hour clinics in Snowbird and Birdtown on the second day, the Cherokee community fed the Thompsons. The four brothers took their time meeting all the children and signing autographs before digging in after their hard work.
“That’s just something the Native communities do,” Miles said. “You come down to a different community, and they’re going to feed you their food that they made. That’s the same thing with us.”
Before the Thompsons made their annual trip down, they participated in the 2018 FIL Men’s World Lacrosse Championship on the Iroquois Nationals team in Netanya, Israel.
Seven hours ahead of their home’s time zone, the 10-day tournament resulted in the four brothers winning 14-12 against Australia in the bronze medal game.
The world exhibition meant spending 14 days away from their families, however. Almost immediately upon arriving back home, the Thompson Brothers turned their attention southwards to North Carolina for their annual trip, but this time, they brought their families with them.
Filling up three vans with 20 members of the Thompson family, they traveled southbound from Onondaga over a two-day span. It marked the first time the Thompson Brothers brought members of their family down with them for the Cherokee Camp, and it was made even more special as their parents, Jerome Sr. and Deloris, and grandfather, Harvey, came down with them.
“My father, we told him about our plans, and he kind of invited himself, so we made room for him,” Jerome Sr. said. “It was no question in our mind that he was going to go; it was just if he was able to. So, he canceled all his weekly arrangements, and he’s here with us. I think he’s enjoying every minute cause he’s asking a lot of questions on the youth and what the boys are getting out of it, their experience with kids like this.”
The four generations of Thompson men at the camp is an impressive feat. Given how difficult it is already just to get the four Thompson Brothers together, getting them together with almost all of their wives, kids, parents, and grandfather is Herculean.
It gives their kids a chance to see what their parents do for a living and how they impact other indigenous children across the continent. Jerome Sr. and Deloris, however, are used to their superstar children and the impact they regularly make.
“I never thought that my boys would become stars or popular with kids,” Deloris said. “I was asked the same question just the other day last week by one of our clan mothers … She asked me, ‘How exciting is it for you to watch your boys play on TV like that?’ and I go, ‘I don’t know. It’s normal to me.’”
Normal to them, but the wonder of having an idol in front of them is apparent on each child’s face during the clinics. It’s part of why the Thompson Brothers are able to draw Native youth from as far as Oklahoma and New Mexico to the annual Cherokee camp.
The brothers recognize this characteristic, and refuse to let a kid asking for a photo or autograph leave empty-handed. It’s the same way they are before and after NLL games, sometime staying the longest after a game to make sure every kid gets what they want.
“They don’t want to see a little kid leave without being satisfied, because that’s why they’re there,” Jerome Sr. said. “They can see this professional person that they relate to or is their idol, and they get to see them and finally get to talk to them in person.”
All of this is a natural part of the Thompson Brothers take on family, passed down to them from their parents. They’ll credit Jerome Sr. and Deloris for the values they were taught and internalized, but the parents credit the brothers with how they’ve used those lessons for positivity in Native communities and across the world.
“The way myself and my wife brought them up and our teachings, really, that’s all we did,” Jerome Sr. said. “We pass our message down to them, and they were able to consume it and give back, knowing that its going to make them a better human being. I think that’s another one of their messages, just being a human being.”
For the Georgia Swarm, giving back to the Native American community and its relationship with the Thompson Brothers and the Eastern Band of Cherokee is of the upmost importance. The Swarm organization operates with a similar familial attitude, and the Thompsons and Cherokee are a part of its family circle.
“Swarm, TBL, and Cherokee, we all have a good relationship,” Jerome said. “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.”
For the Swarm, having the rest of the Thompson family down for the clinic was a welcome treat, especially following the brothers’ incredible trip to Israel representing the Iroquois nation on the world stage.
“I’m happy that (the Arlottas) treat them well,” Deloris said. “Everyone treats them like family, and that’s what I noticed coming down here, too. We had three games down here this year, and they treat us really good. They treat us like we’re family, like everybody does.”
It’s a thread connecting various indigenous tribes, organizations, and people of all ages and backgrounds, sewing them all together tightly and allowing them to impact the next generation while growing the great game of lacrosse.
For the Thompson Brothers, increasing that family while still spending so much time with their own immediate members is part of their life’s mission.
“For them to go out and work with the kids is part of their payback, and they enjoy that,” Jerome Sr. said. “They know it’s part of their work. They don’t call it work because they enjoy it. It’s a giveback, giveback to the game itself. They’d go anywhere.”
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