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Community Medicine

Brothers use their ancestors’ game to inspire youngsters

Young lacrosse players hone their skills at an N7 camp on the Onondaga Nation Territory. Lyle Thompson and his brothers, Jerome, Jeremy and Miles, hope their camps inspire American Indian youths to pursue an education and find success. Erik Korver / Korver Photography

The 300 kids of different ages and sizes wore a hodgepodge of uniforms at the N7 lacrosse camp on the Onondaga Nation Territory, near Syracuse, New York, but they were all there to play a game. Lyle Thompson believes that game, known to American Indians as a medicine game, has the power to lift up their communities.

The power can be seen in videos from camps like that one, showing American Indian kids smiling, laughing and learning throwing techniques. Lyle and his brothers, Jerome, Jeremy and Miles, designed the camps to build passion in the sport.

“Going into college, there were role models for me setting good examples,” Lyle says. “I want to be that same thing through the next generation of lacrosse players — not even the next generation of lacrosse players, but a lot of Native Americans behind us.”

Few American Indian youths see those opportunities. Figures from the National Center for Education Statistics show only 23 percent of American Indians ages 18-24 were enrolled in a higher education institution in 2015 — the lowest among ethnic groups — and studies estimate that fewer than 10 percent hold a bachelor’s degree.

The Thompsons are uniquely successful among their peers. Jeremy played at college lacrosse power Syracuse; Miles and Lyle gained national attention at Albany (New York). And Jerome reached the professional ranks with the Georgia Swarm. But the brothers had an advantage: role models such as their father, who kept them focused on what success required.

The brothers began to realize there was power in the path they were walking. They partnered with Nike’s N7 brand, which provides support to American Indians through sport, to conduct a half-dozen or more lacrosse camps each year on reservations across the nation. “It kind of opened kids’ eyes,” Lyle Thompson says, “to look at college lacrosse as an opportunity.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.