“Lacrosse: The Creator’s Game”
On Monday, April 5th, for the first time on stage together were Oren Lyons, Roy Simmons, Jr., and Jim Ridlon to talk about their time together on the 1958 SU lacrosse team. “Lacrosse: The Creator’s Game” was the third in the year long series “Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future” which has been organized by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation or NOON. About 600 people attended the event which included a demonstration by the traditional wooden stick maker at Onondaga Alf Jacques; a information table on the Onondaga Redhawks box lacrosse team organized by Melissa Rank; and a screening of “Sacred Sport” which was introduced by the film-maker Jordon Klingerman.
Introducing the conversation Phil Arnold, the organizer of the event and who teaches the class “Religion and Sports” at SU, talked about the title for the event. “Creator’s Game” refers to many things for the Haudenosaunee. It is the usual way they refer to lacrosse and indicates the deep, indigenous tap roots of the game in CNY. It is connected to community and was used to solve disputes traditionally. As such, it was a substitute for war and therefore a game of peace and healing. All of these attributes of the Haudenosaunee game have been a gift for the entire Syracuse community.
Oren Lyons, Onondaga Faithkeeper and Professor emeritus at SUNY-Buffalo, spoke about how lacrosse, or Deyhontsigwa’ehs (‘they bump hips’) was played in the sky world before the world was created. It is a game that was given as a gift to the Haudenosaunee and they play it for the pleasure of the Creator. The wooden sticks are still used in the ceremonial game, which is played yearly by men of all ages.
Roy Simmons, Jr., former SU lacrosse coach and winner of 6 NCAA championships, discussed the history of lacrosse as it was developed by Canadian George Beers. He brought his assortment of wooden stick to illustrate the development of the lacrosse stick. Once in the early 1970’s he had created a fiberglass head but couldn’t put it into production.
Jim Ridlon, former professional football player and SU Professor of Art, told stories about how Jim Brown, another member of the ‘58 team, always said he preferred lacrosse. He went into football and fame only because it was more lucrative. Once during a game they had to disguise the fact that their goalie, Oren Lyons, had a cast the full length of his leg. After the first shot the opposing team thought that he had a wooden leg when it bounced off all the way back to the mid-line.
All three men are well known for their athletic gifts but are also well known artists. The connection between creativity and athletics was evident in the skill with which they told their stories and demonstrated their love of the game. Everyone seemed to enjoy the event. This may well be the first of many to explore the Haudensaunee roots of the game and it’s lasting effects on us all in Central New York.