Turns out, the first lacrosse game was played thousands and thousands of years ago, not as a contest between people but as a battle of winged creatures vs. four-legged beasts.
That’s how Native American Ira Huff learned about the roots of the sport from the elders of his Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Monday, he passed down the timeless story to fourth-graders at Global Village Academy in Colorado Springs.
They were enthralled by the tale of the ancient creatures, who used a rock from a creek, wood from trees and animal hide to fashion the equipment they used to test their physical skills and mental abilities.
“I wish it could happen in real life,” said 9-year-old Carlos Rivera-Hernandez, a student at the charter school, which focuses on studying cultures and languages.
Huff, a Colorado Springs resident, and Thomas Muldoon, an assistant lacrosse coach at Colorado College who’s been signed to play professional lacrosse for the Denver Outlaws, conducted the presentation to complement fourth-graders’ study of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a union of Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas.
“To have their lesson come to life and they experience it, not just read about it, is an amazing opportunity,” said fourth-grade teacher Elaine Lindsey.
Carlos said he “really enjoyed” the presentation, which included a short video about a new organization Huff and Muldoon have formed.
Earth Lacrosse aims to teach youth about the game, its history and culture. The pair hopes to present clinics and camps this summer in Colorado Springs, Muldoon said. A fundraising arm benefits growth of lacrosse for indigenous youth nationwide.
The sport today is in the format and spirit of that first game, Huff said, when the winged team, considered the “good guys,” outfoxed the four-legged “bad guys” for the win.
But the game then and now symbolizes unity, he said.
Lacrosse is considered the game of North American Indians, Huff said. It’s pleasing to the culture’s creator and provides medicine for one’s spirit, he said.
“You play with a good mind, and the game teaches you to be the best person you can be,” Huff said.
While lacrosse is a game for everyone, only Native American men engage in medicinal play, as women are thought to already have been healed and not needing such medicine, Huff said. But women from all cultures can and do play lacrosse as a sport.
Huff passed around artifacts, including a headdress with one feather, signifying the Seneca nation of western New York state, where his family lived.
He showed students his father’s wooden lacrosse stick but did not hand it over to students.
Women cannot touch a man’s lacrosse stick, he said, as the female medicinal power would override any healing for a man that would come from a game.
Student Aubrie Turner, 10, said her favorite part was seeing the old lacrosse stick.
“It’s different from the ones we know,” she said, adding that she really liked all of the artifacts.
Today’s lacrosse shafts are made of hollow metal, such as aluminum or titanium, or other materials such as plastic or fiberglass. The traditional balls are made of firm rubber.
Muldoon taught students a few basics of the game, such as pointing the bottom and the top of the stick to pass and catch. Students then tried their hand.
Haudenosaunee means “People of the Long House,” Huff said in answer to a student’s question. Members of the confederacy traditionally lived in long bark-covered houses, and they use the structures today to play lacrosse and hold meetings and other gatherings.
“A lot of people don’t know the history of the game and my people,” he said after the presentation. “It’s good to start early, and let them know indigenous people do exist — we’re still thriving.”
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“The game teaches you to be the best person you can be.” Ira Huff