Inside the 3,000-seat A‘nowara ko:wa Arena in Stormont, Ontario, Jerome Thompson’s four young boys sat and watched attentively.
Most children didn’t sit in their seats when the Akwesasne Thunder of the Ontario Lacrosse Association played. They got up and ran around.The eyes of Jeremy, Jerome Jr., Miles and Lyle however were fixated on their 38-year-old father as he made no-look passes and took backhand shots for the Thunder, who won President’s Cups — Canada’s national second-division box lacrosse championships — in 1995 and ’97.
“They thought it was special for them to see me play,” said Thompson, who was born and raised on the Akwesasne-Mohawk reservation in Ontario, Canada.
That’s because lacrosse is more than a sport to North America’s 4.2 million Native Americans. Lacrosse is a gift from the creator, a holistic process that binds native communities. It promotes health and strength. It ensures traditions and an understanding of their ways. Every fiber of lacrosse is a game sewn into native culture.
It was almost 20 years ago when the four Thompson boys sat and watched their father with reverence and respect. Now because of their individual collegiate achievements, the Thompson name is entrenched in the annals of lacrosse greatness.
The latest milestone set by Lyle Thompson punctuated the greatest collegiate lacrosse career ever.
‘Playing for the creator’
On April 14, nearly 20 people filled a 12-passenger van along with another car to embark on a nearly five-hour trip from the nine-square-mile Onondaga Nation, recognized by the United States as an independent political entity located just south of Syracuse, N.Y., to Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I.
Over the years Jerome Thompson has gotten use to these trips to watch his sons play.
“I rent a lot of cars,” he said. “We haven’t missed a game since Jeremy was (playing) at Syracuse which was six or seven years ago. Jeremy’s game was at Notre Dame and Lyle was playing somewhere else. We went to Lyle’s game and missed Jeremy’s. The next time that happened we went to Jeremy’s. Other than that we’ve been to every single game.”
A van and a car are usually not needed for most of the Thompson lacrosse road trips. But this time was different. More family and friends wanted to see Lyle accomplish what no other college lacrosse player had ever done.
Lyle had two goals and an assist for the University of Albany in their 10-8 win over Bryant. Over the years, he’s given the Bulldogs fits, registering a total of 18 points against them. But the dominance against Bryant wasn’t the reason for the additional family members in attendance.
When Lyle assisted Connor Fields for Albany’s third goal of the game, Lyle became the NCAA Division I all-time career scoring leader. He surpassed Rob Pannell’s previous mark of 355 points, set in 2013, and finished with 400 career points. His 225 career assists are also an NCAA record.
“It’s not the most important thing in the world to me,” Lyle said after the game. “(More importantly) was the way I was taught the game. It is not a game where points matter, where winning matters; it is a medicine game. I care so much about my heritage, about this game; playing for the creator, playing with the right mind and playing with the right attitude.”
It was intentional that the Thompson boys, who received customary hand-crafted lacrosse sticks as babies, didn’t play on an organized lacrosse team until they were 8.
“They played what I call yard ball,” said Jerome. “It was time that I got to spend with them. Plus, I figured I could teach them a lot more one-on-one than being on a team could.”
Learning technique came second. Respect and heritage — from Jerome, not from a lacrosse coach — came first.
“We have a medicine game that we play,” said Jerome. “The game itself is medicine to our people. It is played every spring to bring new life and protection. One day in early spring, the whole community gets involved. There are 50 to 100 people running on the field. That was probably most important game for them to get involved in growing up. I made them respect a lot of things including lacrosse. With that respect they just feel in love with the game.”
‘Anything is possible’
The long trips to watch lacrosse are nothing new to the Thompsons. Long before the trips to all to the college games, the family would cram as many as seven people — the four boys, Jerome, their mother Deloris and Jerome’s father Harvey — into one car. It was a 3 1/2-hour trip from their home on the Onondaga Reservation to A‘nowara ko:wa Arena.
“We bonded on those trips,” said Jerome. “We played games and sang songs — Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tragically Hip and a lot of our traditional songs. Those trips really developed our communication with one another.”
Ironically Lyle’s collegiate career started Feb. 19, 2012, a few miles away from home in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. Lyle could have gone to any lacrosse powerhouse: Johns Hopkins, Duke, Virginia and Syracuse. When his older brother Miles chose Albany, Lyle was part of the package deal.
There was a bond that Lyle shared with Miles, developed earlier that would make them college teammates. When their grandmother, who lived on the Akwesasne Reservation in Ontario, developed a long-term sickness, Jerome moved Lyle and Miles in with her. For two years they did everything together, including caring for her.
On the field for Albany, Lyle, Miles and their cousin Ty were an unstoppable offensive force. Last season the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the most outstanding college lacrosse player, was shared by Lyle and Miles. Miles has since graduated and Lyle is again a finalist for lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy.
This year, Albany (16-3) completed its third consecutive undefeated regular season in America East Conference play and won their third consecutive conference tournament championship, but lost to No. 1 Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, 14-10.
Lyle’s 6.37 points-per-game average (52 goals and 69 assists in 19 games) led the nation, but he is used to it. As a sophomore and a junior Lyle finished as the nation’s leader in points per game.
He is a leader with stature in another regard.
“As children growing up (on a reservation), everyone tries lacrosse whether they like it or not,” Lyle said. “Not a lot of Native Americans go off to college. I want them to see that we can do it and that anything is possible.”
This story includes information from Inside Lacrosse magazine