On July 2, people flocked to Bulldog Stadium in Alliance, taking to the field for a different sport, one that is catching on throughout western Nebraska: lacrosse.
A free lacrosse clinic gathered people of all ages and skill sets to learn from a host of nationally-recognized athletes, including the Thompson brothers, Travis Brave Heart and Ben Wiegel.
Jeremy Thompson and his brothers found lacrosse at a young age. He noted it quickly became a way of life for them.
“We started out at a very young age on the East Coast,” said Thompson. “As part of the Iroquois people, the game was given to us as part of our culture. We use it as a way to bring our community together every season. Lacrosse really was a medicine that brought our people together.
“People would play for a person who was ill in the community, they would play this game of lacrosse in the springtime as a renewal to lift that person’s spirit up from the energy put out there on the field.”
The Thompson brothers have gained success playing lacrosse in the major leagues. They have received sponsorships from companies like Nike. Through their success, they are working together, hosting lacrosse clinics, sending a message to people: never give up.
“We share stories about our lives and what the game had taught us and what it’s given us,” said Jeremy. “It’s been an inspiring vehicle for us to help promote education. Across the country, especially in indigenous country, some of our biggest struggles are drugs and alcohol. Lacrosse helped us go off and graduate from high school and from college. It’s something a lot of people from our community didn’t do. For us, it’s about sharing our story and helping out people, and spreading our heritage and our culture.”
Jeremy noted that hosting a clinic in Alliance and seeing the turnout was a humbling experience for him. He believes it is important to reach out to youth to help them overcome struggles in their lives.
“It humbles me and it sets myself up to help another child who may be going through, who knows? I think that’s why we’ve come to realize why we don’t judge because we don’t know what a child is going through, or what a person is going through, or what their story is,” said Jeremy.
“I think the biggest thing you can do is carry yourself in a humbling way with love and peace and happiness,” Jeremy said. “That’s the biggest thing for us as we travel. That’s the reality of what we’re seeing in society today. If it’s a simple word or a phrase that I say, or something that I do that makes a difference in a child’s life, then it’s a difference maker for me.”
Edison Red Nest III, who helped to organize the event, believes the clinic was only the beginning for lacrosse in western Nebraska as it continues to catch on in other communities. He is grateful for the opportunities for young people to learn from the athletes.
“It makes me so happy to see the kids and to see them playing with the Thompson brothers,” said Red Nest. “For the longest time, this was like a dream, like something that wouldn’t happen for us here, but now it’s here, and it’s happening, and we have people from all over the United States here. We like to see things grow organically.
“I think we need to keep in contact with each other, all the people who were here today,” Red Nest said. “For us here, it comes down to funding. We do what we can with what we’ve got. We can definitely use what we did here to promote it. We just have to continue on. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of these kids.”
Lyle Thompson said he was born into the game. He believes the game is meaningful for a lot of people throughout the nation. He noted that the interest in lacrosse is strong in Alliance and in western Nebraska as a whole.
“It says a lot, especially seeing seeing a part of the country I’ve never really been to,” said Lyle. “We’ve been to a lot of places, and the skill levels differ. One thing I was surprised by here was the skill level. You can tell they’re passionate about it, and they’re really playing the game. It’s much different from how I grew up: I grew up surrounded by the game, but these kids have been surrounding themselves with the game, which I think is special and is really just the start. It’s going to keep growing here.”