Stickball taught to young Choctaws
From the desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
The best way to learn stickball is “hands-on training,” and the Choctaw Nation has offered this opportunity to youth the past three years. Each summer, a camp is held at the Choctaw Nation Capitol Grounds for hundreds of students who are coached in the skills of the game.
I enjoyed some of this “hands-on-sticks” training at Tvshka Homma this month with coaches and students. Noah Chaser and I practiced tossing the ball back and forth to each other on the lawn beside the museum until we both began to feel like we could almost catch it. Picking it up from the ground and throwing it to a teammate was easier for me than catching it with the tiny cups at the end of the long-armed sticks. This is an important life lesson to reflect upon – tossing a sentence out to someone can be easier than listening and “catching” what they are saying sometimes, too. You see, stickball is more than a game; it is a way to teach values and history.
Listening to historian and spiritual leader Olin Williams, I learned that the sticks are different lengths, the cup on the longer stick slightly larger, representing male and female. They work together, with the male stick protectively encompassing the female as they catch the ball, which is considered the young. Just as the male and female sticks work in unison, couples should be unified in marriage and cooperate to the benefit of their family, helping and protecting each other. I thought this was a great lesson.
Another story about stickball was how our ancestors used the game to solve conflict instead of going to war. They would have warriors compete valiantly on the ball field to settle quarrels, earning stickball the nickname “Little Brother of War.” There is even a special edition Pendleton blanket with a design commemorating this story. Choctaw artist Nancy Southerland-Holmes designed this beautiful Pendleton.
Whether you play stickball, enjoy watching the game or reading about it, this is a part of our Choctaw heritage. Our ancestors have carried this tradition forward for hundreds of years and it is still a passionate sport today.
The Choctaw Nation has a team entered in the World Series in Mississippi each year, and also hosts a tournament at the Labor Day Festival at Tvshka Homma. I hope I see you at a game. Yakoke to all who continue to carry on the tradition!