June 26, 2014

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From the Editor: Braids are In

Thompson brothers’ influence spreads beyond the game

by Matt DaSilva | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Miles Thompson greets fans after an Albany game this spring. (Larry Palumbo)

You all remember my nephew, JP, right?

He's the precocious kid who schooled me in a game of backyard lacrosse last Memorial Day weekend and convinced me not only that faceoffs are a necessary part of the game, but also one of its most enjoyable facets ("Special Times," July 2013).

Every time the family gets together, JP, now 5, regales us with kids-say-the-darnedest things moments. But my ears perked up especially when I heard he wants to grow a long braid out of his preppy-looking blonde hair.

"Mom, do you think my hair is long enough to braid like the Thompson brothers?" he asked.

"Well, JP, I'm not sure your hair is quite long enough to braid," his mother replied.

JP paused in disappointment.

"Aw, I wish it was, because I really think that's why they can run so fast and take those awesome shots," he said.

This column originally appears in the July 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription today!

That what Albany greats Lyle Thompson and Miles Thompson — the first co-winners of the Tewaaraton Award — did for our sport. That's what they did for their sport.

In leading the Great Danes to the NCAA quarterfinals as the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers in NCAA single-season history, respectively, the Thompsons reminded us of lacrosse's true origins and provided a welcome antidote to its party-boy image.

Flow is out. Braids are in.

But it's more than a fashion statement. Following in the example of their older brother, Jeremy, the Thompsons believe the long braided ponytails connects them to their ancestors and brings them closer to everything that lives on Earth. And yeah, they look pretty cool whipping through the air when Miles rips a shot over his shoulder or when Lyle sends a one-handed whistler past a goalie's ear.

We saw plenty of that in May, if not in person. ESPN's coverage of the Thompsons became obsessive. We could not get enough.

And the kids were watching.

JP's mother, my sister-in-law, Jenny, is an elementary school librarian and teacher. Two years ago, she asked me to speak to students at Career Day. I figured they, like me, had studied Native American history as part of their elementary education. In fact, that's when I first heard of lacrosse, during a fourth-grade social studies lesson. (We also learned to braid and make cornhusk masks. I was equally terrible at both.)

But when I started talking about lacrosse's Iroquois roots, they looked back at me with blank stares.

"Haven't you guys learned about Native Americans?"

Crickets.

I later learned those studies had been removed from the curriculum. Native Americans have been marginalized since the 17th century and the arrival of European settlers. Why should things be any different 400 years later?

That's why it's a big deal when athletes "off the rez" like the Thompsons or basketball's Schimmel sisters capture the attention of mainstream America. They allow us to share in their culture — even if our hair isn't quite long enough to braid down the back.


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