Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation
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Photo: Rainette Rowland
Tvshka Homma’s Robert Baker, Ramsey Williston and Bobby Baker battle members of the Warrior team in the 2012 Labor Day Stickball Tournament.

Labor Day Stickball tournament in its third year

The Labor Day Festival Stickball Tournament will be held this year for the third time on the Choctaw Nation’s capitol grounds near Tuskahoma. New faces are coming in to practice and learn the sport as community involvement grows.

“It’s good to see families learning stickball skills,” said Sue Folsom, Cultural Services executive director for the Choctaw Nation. “Most of them are even learning to make their own sticks and balls, too. Traditionally, if a person makes their own pair of sticks they fit the hands much better. There is a bonding between the hand and stick making them one and a part of their body.”

The double-elimination men’s tournament begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. The games continue on Saturday at 8 p.m. A children’s exhibition game begins at 7 p.m. Sunday followed by a women’s exhibition at 8 and the men’s championship at 9.

The Cultural Services department is adding a new press box, score board and sound system for better coverage and if you are there on the final evening of the tournament, you will have the opportunity to win a prize.

“One bit of history about stickball was how our ancestors used the game to solve conflict instead of going to war,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “They would have warriors compete valiantly on the ball field to settle quarrels, earning stickball the nickname ‘Little Brother of War’.”

Three smaller teams have developed in the Choctaw Nation and the players join the official Choctaw Nation team, Tvshka Homma, as they travel to larger tournaments and to the World Series in Mississippi. Southeast Thunder is based in the Broken Bow and Idabel area, Koi Chito in Talihina, and Sintullo Lakna includes players in the Durant and Atoka area. Another Oklahoma team, Okla Hannali, is comprised of players from Broken Bow, Ardmore, Oklahoma City and Stillwater. Both Tvshka Homma and Okla Hannali are entered in the Labor Day Festival tournament.

Several practice fields are now available for organized practices or just a quick half-hour of running and shooting to hone skills. There are stickball fields at the capitol grounds, Broken Bow, Hugo, Idabel, Durant, Atoka, Antlers and Talihina where players meet.

Walk-ons are allowed at the Labor Day stickball tournament. Each player must be at least 16 years old and must turn in a completed and signed waiver. Those under 18 are required to have a parent or guardian sign the waiver. A copy of the waiver can be printed from choctawnationculture.com. Waivers can be turned in to coaches beforehand or at a special meeting for coaches and players from 2 to 4:30 p.m. before Friday’s games at the festival. They may also be mailed to Billy Eagle Road III, Choctaw Nation Cultural Services, P.O. Box 1210, Durant, OK 74702.

Stickball is the Choctaw national sport, known as “kapucha” or “ishtaboli.” Other tribes also play stickball and it is the precursor of lacrosse. The object of the game is to keep possession of the stickball or “towa,” only touching the ball with cupped sticks that are made to fit the left and right hands. The size of the field is comparable to the size of a football field. Each team has 30 players divided into 10 offense, 10 center and 10 defense positions. The team to score the most by hitting the opposition’s goal post with the ball wins. Play is broken up into four 15-minute quarters with players switching ends at halftime.

There are very few rules in stickball. The ball can’t be touched by a player’s hands, can’t head butt, can’t intentionally hit another player with the sticks and can’t tackle below the knees.

For more information or of you’re interested in joining practices, contact Eagle Road or Jared Tom at the Cultural Services office, 800-522-6170.

The game of stickball is older than any written historical accounts and as it is taught to the youth today, its legacy will continue for thousands of years to come.