Written by Denise Waterman
Credits to Mitchell White, Gavin Hill, Jack Johnson, Harrison Pierce, and Lars Stout
June 22, 2009
We all watched or heard about the 2009 NCAA Lacrosse Championship game. Cornell University seeded against Syracuse University. Something special happened, beyond the fact that the regulation game ends in a tie and Syracuse University lacrosse is victorious by a Sudden Victory score.
This year was distinctive… Syracuse University fields a team with two Haudenosaunee lacrosse players on their roster, Senior Defenseman Sid Smith, Cayuga Wolf Clan and Cody Jemison, Mohawk, Wolf Clan. Lacrosse fans have watched Sid and Cody coming up the ranks as kids, now men, and know Sid and Cody prepared for this game their entire life.
It is 1:00 pm on Monday, May 22, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts, and two Haudenosaunee lacrosse players are positioned on the field about to create an end-to-end championship play on on ESPN. This particular last lacrosse play will manifest all the last second game winning plays for some time to come.
It’s an overtime game Sid Smith delivers a divisive and calculating stick check to Cornell’s # 44 To the viewers it feels like the game is now running in slow motion, the audience sees the ball jump from the short stick, bouncing only once as Sid’s stick embraces the ball even before the offensive man knows what’s happening. Sid passes it up field to Syracuse’s No. 33 who sees Cornell’s defense begin to press. He takes a brief look and passes the ball directing it to Cody Jemison. As Jemison stands just off the lacrosse crease, he’s prepared; he stretches and twists his body full length to catch the pass to make a no look shot on goal. All eyes focus on the back of the net as it bulges. Score!
On a hot spring day lacrosse families all across Haudenosaunee territories saw the game winning goal by Syracuse University. Everyone cheered for SU but, it was the two Haudenosaunee that made us extremely proud. If the national press and local city paper couldn’t picture the last play we’re glad to help them out – Cody Jemison makes the game winning goal!
The championship game’s final play, is a tribute for every Haudenosaunee boy who stands proud holding a lacrosse stick. That last goal is a manifestation of all the lacrosse dreams past, present, and future. All Haudenosaunee boys dream, practice, and act out whilst playing in pick up games. These dreams transcend through the minor programs, junior B’s, A’s, and onto the collegiate fields.
In the Onondaga Nation, the “Box” refers to an outdoor arena modeled from an ice hockey rink with a foot-worn, grassy dirt floor. “I couldn’t wait for the day until I was old enough to ride my bike to the box,” says Mitchell, an 8 year old lacrosse player. A few minor players speak about heading to the lacrosse box. I get to the box by riding my 4-wheeler cross-lots through the fields. I park it at the edge of the field says Gavin another lacrosse player. The third boy in the group, Lars, says, “I usually walk with my cousin Nate down Hemlock Road to get to the box.” Each spring youth lacrosse players make their way from the various sections of the Nation to find their way to the community lacrosse box. Here in the Onondaga Box everyone plays. On a regular day, we play without a goal tender. Instead, a tall stick is placed into the ground directly behind the middle of the net. Scores are made by throwing the ball into the net to hit the stick, the boys say.
When asked about pickup games at the Box the boys were eager to speak out collectively saying:
“Usually the first lacrosse player to get to the box starts shooting around against the boards or on the net. When the second player arrives we each pretend we are members of a different team, and at one end of the box we take turns shooting, running, and dodging, on one of the goals. We play this while waiting around for other kids to show up at the box. If we start shooting around the other kids will see and hear us and come to the box to jump in the game. Just the sound of the ball hitting the boards is like a signal in behalf of a game that is eager to start. Soon we’ll have enough players to play a lacrosse game.”
Every group has a Leader. Today’s box game leader will Mitch, tomorrow Jack, next week Gavin. The leader announces “Bunches of Sticks!” Bunches-of- Sticks is the method by which two lacrosse teams are made. Everyone who wants to play a game of pick up lacrosse places his stick onto a pile at center field. “Bunches of Sticks” is a huge pile of lacrosse sticks facing in every direction. The leader’s legs straddle the Bunches of Sticks his head must be facing toward the sky. Facing toward the sky is really important aspect of Bunches of Sticks because the teams should be formed equally and without prejudice.
The leader sorts the sticks. As he leans over, his right hand handles a stick and swings it to right. With the next stick, his left hand does the same motion creating a pile of lacrosse sticks just off to his left. The leader continues the sorting until all of the piled sticks are depleted which creates 2 teams for the game.
One other time, a lacrosse player and his son went to the Onondaga Box looking for some players to catch and throw against. A lacrosse player from the community said, “Just go to the box – they’ll show up!” So he drove his car to the box, no one was there. He and his son began to get their sticks ready to shoot around. The visitor thought to himself, I wonder how the guys know when to come to the box? Well, before he knew it, one by one within a matter of minutes there was a whole crowd of players at the Box. They came on bikes, four-wheelers, cars, walked in from the main road, the creek paths, and even the old foot path along the hill. The lacrosse player said, “This is fun, it’s been a long time since we had this type of Box in our community.”
The two teams begin playing for today’s bragging rights. In today’s game everyone’s offense and everyone’s defense. The score is 3 to 3 and it is almost time to go home for supper. Players prepare for one last play from center floor. A face off win ensues with a quick run toward a goal. But the opposing player turns lacrosse defensive, delivering a stick check making the ball jump out from his stick. Within a split second, the ball allowed to bounce only once, a player picks up the ball low on the upward momentum and passes it to player on the crease. The boy on the crease takes the ball to the goal. A dozen little arms rise with sticks in hand to make a victorious game gesturing.
In a dozen years, perhaps 2, 3, or 4 all of these lacrosse players will be playing for a major college or university, conceivably a final four or national championship lacrosse game.