In the heartland of North America, where the land stretches wide, and the heritage runs deep, a unique and storied sport has thrived for centuries. Indigenous North American stickball, also known simply as “stickball,” is a remarkable team sport that embodies the rich history and culture of Native American tribes. This article will delve into the fascinating world of stickball, exploring its origins, traditions, and enduring significance.
Unveiling the Game
Stickball is a team sport played on open fields, where teams armed with two sticks each engage in a spirited battle for control of a ball. The objective is to shoot the ball into the opposing team’s goalpost. It is similar to lacrosse, sharing a heritage that stretches back centuries.
Among the various tribes that participate in stickball, the Choctaw people have a particularly unique version. In Choctaw Stickball, teams utilize handcrafted sticks called “kabocca” and a woven leather ball known as “towa.” Players don’t touch or throw the ball through their hands; instead, they use their sticks to guide it down the field. When a player successfully strikes the goalpost of the other side with the ball, points are scored.
A Tapestry of History
The history of stickball is a tapestry woven with threads of tradition and competition. While the first recorded mentions of the game date back to the mid-18th century, evidence suggests that it had been played for centuries before that.
Traditional stickball games were grand affairs, often lasting several days and featuring hundreds of participants from rival villages or tribes. The games unfolded on vast plains, with goals as distant as several miles apart. Remarkably, there were no boundaries, and players were forbidden from using their hands to interact with the ball.
The commencement of the game involved tossing the ball into the air, prompting both sides to scramble for control. With numerous players on the field, the games resembled a tumultuous swarm, slowly progressing across the expanse. Passing the ball was considered a skilful manoeuvre, and dodging opponents was a sign of courage.
Medicine men served as coaches, while tribal women supported the players by offering refreshments and participating in betting activities. Stickball was more than a game; it was a means of settling disputes, training young warriors, celebrating festivals, and resolving conflicts through peaceful competition.
Encounter with the Colonizers
In the mid-17th century, Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf became the first to document stickball after witnessing the Wyandot people in action. While he disapproved of its violence, English colonists found the game captivating, leading to its adoption.
In 1763, the Ottawa tribe ingeniously employed stickball to gain entrance to Fort Mackinac, a fateful episode in the game’s history. The 19th century saw stickball demonstrations in Canada, piquing the interest of Canadians and eventually leading to the codification of the game into modern lacrosse by William George Beers in 1856.
Resurgence and Revival
The latter half of the 20th century it marked a resurgence of stickball in the southern regions of North America. It also transformed into a street game in the northeastern United States. While the game’s scale may have diminished over the years, the essence remains true to its historical roots.
Today, stickball continues to unite tribal communities in schoolyards and college campuses across the southern United States. Festivals and tournaments have sprung up, fostering a renewed enthusiasm for the game. The Jim Thorpe Games and the Choctaw Labor Day Festival stand out among these. The World Series, hosted by the Mississippi band of Choctaws in Philadelphia, Mississippi, ranks as one of the country’s most hotly contested Indigenous ballgames.
Contemporary stickball games are typically played on roughly 100-yard-long fields featuring tall cylindrical poles at each end as goals. Points are scored by hitting the bar with the ball or game sticks or by running through the poles while in possession of the ball. In recreational settings, scoring is informally kept, often by the audience or a few players.
Stickball games kick off with a jump ball thrown into the middle of the field. Players from both teams scramble to secure possession and launch the ball towards their respective goals using their sticks. The spectacle is marked by players rolling and tumbling over each other, straining and tugging for ball control.
While the number of players in the game is flexible, balance is essential. Typically, around thirty players from each team take to the field. They are separated into three groups: returners, who are positioned close to the opposition’s goal to help score; midfielders, who have been tasked with moving the ball forward; and pole men, who are in the role of defending their goal.
Injuries are unavoidable, considering the full-contact nature of the sport. Stickball is played without protective gear, making it a physically demanding and thrilling sport. Rules aim to prevent serious injuries, with strict prohibitions on specific actions.
Inclusion of Women
A remarkable aspect of contemporary stickball is the participation of women. Female players are not bound by stick use and can pick up the ball with their hands. In contrast, male players are required to wield sticks. During social games, teams are often divided along gender lines, and rules are in place to prevent excessive aggression towards female players.
Stickball is steeped in tradition, and pre-game rituals mirror those associated with war. The night before a game, tribal communities gather for a tribal ball dance involving conjuring ceremonies and spiritual songs to invoke good fortune. Players don ceremonial regalia, sacrifices are made, and sacred expressions are vocalized to intimidate opponents.
Shamans play a vital role in preparing players and their sticks. The “mystic rite known as going to the water” involves blessings, ritualistic scratches, and the belief that it enhances a player’s performance. Players adorn themselves with paint and charcoal and decorate their sticks with symbols representing desired qualities.
Before games, players often quickly follow demanding diets to improve their mental, spiritual, and physical skills. A range of customs and traditions mark the day of the game, and bets can be placed on things like cloth napkins, knives, decorations, horses, and even loved ones.
Equipment of Indigenous North American stickball
The equipment used in stickball varies depending on the tribe, but the essence remains consistent. Players typically use one or two wooden sticks made from hardwood, such as hickory. The sticks are crafted with loops at one end to catch and hold the ball, often with netting made from leather strips.
The game ball is a marvel, constructed from tightly wadded cloth and wrapped in leather strips. Some early versions used wooden balls or deerskin stuffed with hair. The balls are typically three inches in diameter.
Google Celebrates Stickball
In recent times, stickball has garnered recognition and respect beyond tribal communities. President George H. W. Bush designated November 1990 Native American Heritage Month in the United States. The idea was reiterated by President Joe Biden in 2022 after he announced November 25 to be Native American Heritage Day.
It is only fitting to appreciate stickball, an activity that typifies Native Americans’ tenacity, camaraderie, and lasting customs as we remember their cultural heritage. Stickball has been widely played for generations and has remained beyond just a game; it is a tribute to Native American culture and the unyielding spirit of its people.
Indigenous North American stickball is more than a sport; it is a living testament to the rich history and traditions of Native American tribes. From its storied origins to its modern resurgence, stickball symbolizes unity, skill, and cultural heritage. Let’s honour stickball’s lasting spirit and those neighbourhoods that continue to play it as we mark Native American Heritage Month. If you also want to read about Omgflix then go through that blog.
What is the origin of stickball?
Stickball has Indigenous North American roots, with evidence suggesting it was played for centuries before the first recorded mentions in the mid-18th century.
How is stickball similar to lacrosse?
Stickball shares similarities with lacrosse regarding gameplay involving teams, sticks, and goals, but it has unique variations and traditions.
Is stickball still played today?
Stickball has seen resurgence in the southern United States, with tribal communities and tournaments keeping the tradition alive.
Are there any safety measures in stickball today?
Yes, contemporary stickball games have rules to prevent serious injuries, such as restrictions on specific actions.
Why is stickball celebrated during Native American Heritage Month?
Stickball is an integral part of Native American culture and heritage, making it a fitting symbol to celebrate during Native American Heritage Month.