This Native American Family is Transforming Collegiate Lacrosse

The Thompson family is reminding everyone of the sport's Native roots.

By Jamilah King Mar 12, 2014

Lost amid the clamor of March Madness is the fact that we’re getting closer to the NCAA Lacrosse Championships, which kick off on May 24. This season’s most talked about players include three Lyle, Miles and Ty Thompson, three Native American players from the same family who have made their mark at SUNY Albany.

Lyle, described by the "New York Times" as "a Wayne Gretzky-like figure in collegiate lacross," is a leading contendor for this year’s Tewaaraton Award, the sport’s biggest honor. Ironically, the award is named after the Cherokee phrase "little brother of war" and depicts a Mohawk native playing lacrosse, but has never gone to a Native American player.

But the story of the Thompsons isn’t just that they’re good. It’s that they’re re-shaping the landscape of opportunity for Native American athletes. Here’s Zach Schonbrun at the Times:

The Thompsons, who grew up on a reservation in upstate New York, are more than exceptional athletes thriving in the sport of their ancestors, a sport that is still endowed with deeply spiritual significance to Native Americans. They are trailblazers who have upended the athletic world and reservation life, and their success has ignited a scramble for Native American recruits at lacrosse programs across the country.

Syracuse, the regional powerhouse that has won 10 N.C.A.A. championships, has long seemed the only way off the reservation for young Native Americans aiming for Division I. Other universities rarely recruited on reservations because they knew the players would choose Syracuse.

Change has come quickly. Zed Williams of the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York enrolled this fall at the University of Virginia, and Zach Miller of the Allegany Indian Reservation in New York enrolled at the University of Denver. Frank Brown, an attackman who is also from the Allegany reservation, enrolled last year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

Here’s a video that describes the Thompsons’ journey. It’s long-ish, more than seven minutes, and a little heavy on SUNY Albany promo material, but it gives a good general overview of their careers.