Lyle Thompson and his older brothers: Jeremy, Jerome Jr. and Miles, play America’s Original Game for a higher purpose.
They are members of the Onondaga Nation in upstate New York, and started playing on traditional wooden sticks. Their dad, a player, coached and played with them every evening after work. “We would go to his games and we wouldn’t run around and play tag with all the other kids. We would sit there and watch. He’d always tell us to pick a player we liked and learn from that player,” Lyle recalls. “There are a lot of little things that he did to help us become the players we are today.”
They had a standard six-by-six-foot goal in the family’s backyard but their dad put a board in front of the goal with a hole that was barely wider than the two-and-a-half-inch diameter of a lacrosse ball. His sons were challenged to shoot through this tiny target.
All of the Thompson brothers went on from those backyard games to become members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team, for which their dad Thompson Sr. played in 1990. The Nationals are the only Native American team that is sanctioned to compete as its own country in international play, a distinction that inspires the Thompsons every time they don the team’s purple and yellow jerseys.
The brothers also all played in college. Jeremy played two seasons for Syracuse University and was a second-team All-American. Jerome led Onondaga Community College to the NJCAA national championship in 2009. And Lyle and Miles attended the University of Albany. In 2014, they were the first Native Americans and the first co-winners to receive the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s highest honor. The following year, Lyle became the first back-to-back Tewaaraton Award winner and set NCAA Division I records for career points (400) and assists (255).
After winning bronze at the 2014 Lacrosse World Games, the Thompsons and the Iroquois Nationals will being going for gold when the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships take place this fall. The Six Nations will host the tournament, marking the first time it will take place on Native American lands.
Equally important for the Thompsons is the opportunity to demonstrate to Native American youth how one can pursue his or her dreams and still maintain a strong connection to community and traditions. After all, the brothers are proof of that truth.
Even as the awards and accolades arrive, however, the brothers retain lacrosse’s greater meaning. “I’m playing for a much different purpose, and that’s for the Creator. It’s for medicine; it’s for my community,” Lyle says. “The game is part of our religion.”
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