Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
Scott Marr first saw Lyle Thompson take his signature no-look, backhand shot during a UAlbany practice, but he didn’t think it would evolve into much more. He had seen people take a similar shot, but purely by accident, whereas Thompson turned it into an accurate attempt.
Whenever Thompson ran around the left side of the net, he wouldn’t switch hands, instead sending the unorthodox strike toward the net.
“He kind of just talked about it like, ‘Why am I switching to my left hand when I can just keep it in my right hand and reach out and shoot it this way?’” Marr, UAlbany’s head coach, said.
It was a shot that Thompson turned into his own, and one that his former coach Mark Burnam said revolutionized the game, similar to Gary Gait’s ‘Air Gait’ shot from the 1980s.
Thompson, who grew up on the Onondaga Nation Reservation, has used shots like those to take his game to the professional stage while also becoming one of lacrosse’s top Indigenous players. After graduating from UAlbany in 2015 as its top career point scorer, Thompson, along with his three brothers, has used his platform to inspire future lacrosse generations from his background.
“That’s a special family, and they live, love and eat that game up,” Burnam said. “It’s spiritual to them and they make it part of their life and their kids’ life and their family.”
Burnam, who is part Akwesasne and Mohawk, never had plays like those to watch, and he never had many Indigenous players to look up to, especially none with the degree of fame that Thompson and his brothers have, he said. Growing up in Syracuse, Burnam said his biggest role models were the Onondaga Warriors, the reservation’s box lacrosse team. As often as he’d see them playing on the field, Burnam saw them off it at events like the Green Corn Dance festival, where some players, like Warriors’ goalie John Buck, played bass in the local band.
But to Burnam, that lack of Indigenous influences within lacrosse didn’t matter since he — along with every other Indigenous lacrosse player — was taught to play for the game’s creators. Thompson’s brother, Jeremy, said he and his brother were taught to play the game with a “good mind,” something that began when the family played in their backyard.
Those two-on-two games between the brothers were the foundation of Thompson’s awareness on the lacrosse field, Jeremy said, allowing him to see extra defenders even if he was just playing against two of his brothers. And when their mother Deloris called them inside for dinner, Thompson always wanted to stay outside. Even after meals, Thompson went back outside as if he “had friends out there,” Jeremy said.
Rather than lacrosse just being a game played for pleasure, Thompson embraced the game’s healing nature, which is what the creators intended it to be in the first place, Jeremy said.
“Being a Native American at birth, you’re basically born with a stick, you represent it and then you play until you can’t play anymore,” Syracuse defender Jerry Staats said.
Staats played with Thompson and his brothers at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship, where they represented the Iroquois Nationals. Thompson and his brothers were the first of a growing list of Indigenous idols Staats began to admire as he grew up on the Six Nations reservation in Ontario.
Megan Thompson | Design Editor
As Thompson helped lead the Iroquois Nationals to its second consecutive bronze medal, it became clear to Staats why Thompson and his brothers are among the most looked up to Indigenous lacrosse players.
“He really plays lacrosse with a deep passion and he understands that lacrosse was used for him to pursue his dreams,” Staats said. “And I can kind of relate to that because that’s the way that I’m using lacrosse as well.”
Thompson was also unstoppable when he played for the Road Warriors, Burnam’s summer team. Burnam, who was coaching in North Carolina at the time, invited many Indigenous players to play with the team that summer, and almost all of them came from reservations in New York like Onondaga. He quickly realized that Thompson and his brother Miles had immense potential.
“There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to be stars when they went to college,” Burnam said.
But Burnam said Syracuse’s John Desko didn’t think Thompson could replicate what he did in high school. Instead, it was Marr who pounced on Thompson. In fall 2009, Marr went to the Turkey Shoot tournament, where he saw Thompson and his brother play while they were being coached by their father, Jerome. Marr talked to Jerome about recruiting the kids, and they continued those conversations the following spring at the Haudenosaunee Promise tournament. Jerome and Marr spent close to an hour talking before heading to the Thompsons’ house to talk until midnight.
The two eventually became the only UAlbany players to win the Tewaaraton Trophy. In 2014, Thompson and Miles became the award’s first-ever co-recipients.
Years later, having played professionally in every major North American league, Thompson has been able to influence not just Indigenous players, but the game’s next generation, Burnam said. He’s done so through his unique backhand shot and a strong social media presence.
Being a Native American, at birth, you’re basically born with a stick, you represent it and then you play until you can’t play anymore,
Jerry Staats, Syracuse defender
Thompson has become an advocate for Indigenous rights in particular, Marr said. In 2016, Marr, Thompson’s wife Amanda, and then-National Lacrosse League defender Bill O’Brien drove to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota for the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Thompson organized a lacrosse game and spoke in front of roughly 500 people about the sport’s importance in his life and its general influence on the Indigenous population.
“He’s not just somebody that throws a ball around,” Marr said. “He’s always trying to impress on people what the game really means to the Iroquois nation and to the people around the world what it should really mean. That it’s not just a game but it’s just a way of life.”
The post Lacrosse pro Lyle Thompson’s growth into an influence for Indigenous people appeared first on The Daily Orange.