ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Miles and Lyle Thompson became lacrosse rock stars during their college careers at the University at Albany, attracting long autograph lines after games — at home and on the road.
Every kid loves a scorer, and the Native American brothers from the Onondaga Nation outside Syracuse rarely disappointed. They put up staggering offensive numbers — Miles tied the NCAA record with 82 goals as a senior and Lyle is the college game’s all-time leading scorer.
“I realized it (playing in college) was an opportunity to give other people a chance to see the game as we play it,” Lyle said. “I wanted to pass that along.”
Together with cousin Ty, the Thompsons gave a jolt to the sport’s popularity, and they’re hopeful that a new documentary titled “Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation” will offer a deeper understanding of lacrosse’s origins and its impact on Native Americans. The 90-minute movie, directed by Peter Spirer and Peter Baxter, debuts Friday, on the eve of the men’s national semifinals, in select theaters around the country. It will be available on video on demand services on June 20.
“It’s going to grow the game, help people understand it,” said Lyle Thompson, who finished his Albany career with 400 points and is the only college player to notch three 100-point seasons. “It’s been basically my whole life. It’s given me a bunch of opportunities. I was born pretty passionate about this game. My father instilled it in us, showed us the importance of it.
“What even means more to me is this film is going to show the history of this game, where this game comes from, and how much it means to us as a people.”
The six nations of the Iroquois (Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Seneca, and Mohawk) call lacrosse the “medicine game.” It’s considered the lifeblood of their nation.
“The way we were taught and way the game has been played for centuries in our community — the traditional game — was from the spirit world,” said Jeremy Thompson, an older brother. “It started out with the animals. Each animal had a uniqueness that they brought to the game. The bear was big and strong, and with his strength and quickness of hands he was able to get his prey.
“At the high professional levels you see that. You have different players that are goal scorers, different guys that have a specialty at picking up ground balls, whatever the case may be. It still carries on right from the beginning of time.”
The movie traces the sport’s beginnings more than four centuries ago all the way through the 2015 World Indoor Championships in Syracuse, New York, a portion of which was conducted on Native American soil for the first time. Although the six Iroquois tribes have a combined population of about 125,000, the team finished second in the tournament to Canada.
That’s a source of immense pride.
“I’m just hoping it (the movie) grows the game and shows what it means to our people,” said Jerome Thompson, who founded Thompson Brothers Lacrosse with his three siblings. “It’s not only important to me, it’s important to our whole nation. We use the game as medicine. It helps heal.”
The documentary features interviews with former NFL great Jim Brown, the only player in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and National Lacrosse Hall of Fame; his teammate in college at Syracuse in the 1950s, Oren Lyons, a Native American and All-American goalie for the Orange; New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former vice president Al Gore.
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