SAINT PAUL, MINN – After the first ever “Lax-4-Life” camp concluded last week on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Northeastern Minnesota, smiles were abundant among campers, staff and community members who participated in the weeklong camp. And after spending hours learning the fundamentals of lacrosse, a sense of accomplishment from an athletic standpoint had only a portion to do with all the excitement.
More importantly through the game of lacrosse, tribes miles apart were united and a rich tradition to the Native people was rekindled.
“We told these kids at the beginning of the camp that lacrosse was in their blood whether they knew it or not,” said Swarm defenseman Travis Hill. “We came out here to revitalize that interest in their blood and they it showed it too. They were just naturals when they picked up a stick and knew exactly what to do with it.”
Hill, who has spent his entire career in Minnesota and is one of the league’s most recognized Native American players, was thrilled when the camp finally hit the ground running.
“We are actually starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It put a big smile on my face knowing that this camp is actually happening and that we are making a difference in these communities.”
Hill along with Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines directed the camp, which ran from July 26-30 and featured 26 campers from five different reservations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For many kids, this was the first time a lacrosse stick had been placed in their hands.
“These kids were amazing,” said Caines. “In all of the camps I’ve ever done, especially with beginners, these kids picked up the sport the fastest. We were able to have a full contact scrimmage at the end of the camp where the kids were able to showcase all the skills they learned this week. That was rewarding to see.”
Even when the campers were away from the field, Caines was impressed with the groups’ mentality towards improving their skills.
“We would go back to the campsite and all the kids would have a stick in their hands practicing stick moves. As beginners they were doing stuff you never thought they could do. They were throwing and catching balls behind their back and balancing the ball on their stick. I think it just feels natural for them.”
The campers stayed overnight at the University of Minnesota’s Forestry Center and then traveled to the Brookston Community Center for daily camp activities. While out on the field, basic fundamentals were stressed such as proper stick grip, shooting, passing, and collecting loose balls. More strategic play such as pick and rolls, skill moves and team play were introduced as the camp progressed.
In order to make the “Lax-4-Life” camp a reality, months of planning was spent among the various partnerships the Swarm formed, particularly with the Native American Law Enforcement Summit (NALES) and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Clint Letch, who is the president of NALES, was determined to give kids living on reservations an alternative to drugs, alcohol and violence.
“I thought lacrosse was a great diversionary,” Letch said. “If you are going to tell kids all the time that you can’t do this and you can’t do that, you have to give them something to do. It’s part of our heritage and we play the game for the right reasons. I’m glad we are able to bring it back to Indian country in Minnesota and Wisconsin.”
Brookston Community Center Manager Bryan “Bear” Bosto also wanted to give kids something positive to do in his community and in return hosted the camp at his facility.
“That was the big selling point to me,” said Bosto. “Lacrosse gives these kids an opportunity to live a healthier life.”
Tribal leaders were also sold on the idea and saw the benefit of restoring the interest in the game of lacrosse in the community.
“I think we need to build our tradition back up. Like our language we have been missing it,” said Fond du Lac Council Member Wally Dupuis. “This camp has brought many of reservations together, which is great.”
Swarm Co-Owner and Vice President Andy Arlotta spearheaded the Swarm’s efforts to re-connect the Native people with their ancestral game. At the camps’ end, Arlotta made it clear that his vision stretches far beyond last week’s events.
“My vision is to get an all Native American team playing at all levels in the state,” said Arlotta. “Whether it’s youth, high school, or outdoor. We want them competing in the Swarm Youth Box League as well.”
Arlotta also had a special message for the camper’s after they had just finished their final five-on-five scrimmage of the week.
“I want to draft you guys to come to play for the Minnesota Swarm one day,” Arlotta told the group.
Each camper also walked away with two top of the line Harrow lacrosse sticks valued at $140 a piece, with the intention being that they can use one for themselves and one to share with someone in their communities to help grow the sport.
“Hopefully this is step one of many,” said Brock Simon of Harrow. “We saw the importance of bringing the game back to the Native people.”
Simon also provided the camp with helmets, pads and gloves. That equipment will be now utilized to help jumpstart a team on the Fond du Lac Reservation.
The campers also received mouth guards courtesy of Bite Tech and practice jerseys from Under Amour.
One young camper mentioned that receiving a stick at the end of camp nearly put a tear in his eye.
“I was going to buy my own stick after this camp,” said the camper. “I’m just honored to have these awesome sticks awarded to us and I’m completely thankful to everyone who made this possible.”
Darrell Shingobe, a camp counselor who brought a group of kids from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, was grateful that his kids walked away with equipment to help grow the sport back home.
“It was unbelievable,” said Shingobe. “Everyone stepped up here this weekend. This game is going to continue to grow and we are going to try to take what we have learned this week and turn that into a positive thing in our community.”