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Swarm Hosted TBL Camp in Cherokee Nation

Photo Credit: GeorgiaSwarm.com

Nestled within the quiet green mountains of the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina, nearly fifty native boys and girls from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were exposed to the game of lacrosse by some of its best players in the world earlier this week.

Georgia Swarm forwards Jerome Thompson and Miles Thompson were joined by Thompson Brothers Lacrosse co-founder Bill O’Brien as they held a native-only Lacrosse Camp, offered for free by the Georgia Swarm to all native children in attendance as part of the team’s mission to  help grow the game on the reservation. Kids from as far as Oklahoma made the trip to learn from the best.

“Having the Georgia Swarm partner with the Cherokee, it’s a pretty cool thing they’ve got going on here,” Miles said at the 2nd Annual Camp. “We’ve got six Native Americans on the team playing for Georgia, and for them to do this camp for the Cherokee Nation, I don’t think you can top it off any better. We’re helping the youth out.”

Cherokee Nation kids are taught the sport of stickball, called “the little brother of war.” Players play with two sticks, a ball, and just shorts. There is no padding as the game is intended to be very physical, an anything-goes game where only men are allowed to participate in.

Photo Credit: Zach Fletcher

“It’s exciting to see that the Cherokee youth are able to pick up the sport of lacrosse so fast,” said O’Brien, who is also a defenseman for the New England Black Wolves. “We have kids picking up ground balls, cradling, shooting, passing, and we actually got into a couple games in the second day. It’s very exciting to see and I think it just goes to show the traditional stickball game so closely related to lacrosse, that the skills transfer really nicely.”

The two-day camp was divvied up into a morning session for children between the ages of 7-12 and an early afternoon session for teenagers between 13 and 17. Members of the Georgia Swarm front office brought the Champion’s Cup along for the kids to admire after the camp.

“For my son, it means a lot [to have the camp] cause he really wants to play, but we don’t have local leagues,” said Carrah Swimmer, mother of two of the participating children. “But he does stickball. It means a lot to him just cause that’s what he wants to do, so he looks forward to this camp. It’s cool having the Thompson Brothers down and having them actually be here, to see that they’re Native American and he’s Native American and he can relate to them.”

Photo Credit: Zach Fletcher

Taking place at the old Cherokee High School, the Thompsons and O’Brien spent the days working on the basics with the youth and ran drills focusing on passing, cradling, scooping up loose balls, and every kid’s favorite activity, shooting on goal.

Kids enthusiastically hustled across the old football field, pushed along by a light breeze and encouraging words from the Nike-endorsed athletes. During drills, the three would constantly give individual quick lessons to a child, explaining the finer details of cradling or teaching the aspiring goalies how to make themselves look bigger between the pipes.

The penultimate activity in the last few minutes of both camps was pick-up games. O’Brien would divvy the kids up into two teams, yellow and white, and call out a number signaling the match-up. Kids would run out and try and score on the day’s goaltender, Miles. Saying he was preparing to give Swarm teammate Mike Poulin a run for his money as netminder in the 2017 season, Miles donned indoor lacrosse goalie gear and stood out in the hot sun, daring the young athletes to take their best shot.

Photo Credit: GeorgiaSwarm.com

“I like the Thompson brothers, and it’s fun doing their clinics with them,” said Shelby Maney, a 12-year-old who took part in the morning camp, before talking about all she had learned that day from the NLL players.

At the end of every camp, the Thompsons and O’Brien would gather the native youth in a circle and talk to them about the importance of the game, its history, and personal stories to help the kids grow up clean and with respect.

“We don’t just do lacrosse,” Miles said at the end of the day. “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.”

“We make it a point to travel to indigenous communities throughout America because lacrosse for Native Americans is a medicine game,” O’Brien said, “and there are some tribes throughout America who lost their medicine game, if you will. Down here, it’s stickball. If you look at certain tribes like the Muscogee Creek, they have another form of stickball. It’s cool because the premise of the game is the same. It’s a gift given by the Creator and it’s for enjoyment or medicine or to settle dispute. But those themes are consistent throughout all tribes. Some tribes lose their medicine game if you will, and you see a lot of drugs and alcohol abuse on those reservations, so we believe that if we can bring back the medicine, bring back a medicine game to a tribe, then it’ll help heal the community, it’ll help give young men something to aspire to, and we really just want to give back to the communities and be role models because it’s something  that we think we can do and help with.”

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