The Choctaw Nation unveiled the Curtis “Tody” Billy Stickball Field in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
The field will allow future generations the opportunity to participate in the ancient sport of Choctaw stickball.
The sport is America’s oldest field sport and is popular among southeastern tribes for ceremonial and recreational use.
Stickball was used to settle disputes among neighboring tribes and once served as a replacement for war.
The traditonal name for stickball is ishtaboli, or little brother of war.
In the modern era, it is used as a tool to preserve culture and reap the health benefits of exercise.
There are adult, youth, co-ed and women’s teams.
District 2 Councilmember Tony Ward met with the local co-ed team to discuss the unveiling of a new field and the possibility of naming the field after someone.
“I asked the team if they would like to name the field after someone and mentioned the name Tody Billy,” said Ward.
The team voted unanimously to name the field in honor of Billy, who helped pave the way for Choctaw culture to be practiced in Oklahoma.
During the dedication Chief Gary Batton said, “It’s emotional for me because I think about the Trail of Tears in the 1830s when we lost one-fourth of our people and we lost a lot of our tradition and culture.”
Billy began his career as an artist. He pursued his passion for art by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Art Education with a minor in the Industrial Arts and a master’s degree in School Counseling.
Following his education, Billy spent a year teaching art in Miami, Oklahoma.
In 1973, he served as a mentor to a church youth group from the Choctaw Larger Parrish, a Choctaw branch of the Presbyterian Church.
The church received a Faith and Identity grant to explore Choctaw culture.
The group planned a trip to the Choctaw Indian Fair located on the reservation of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
“The purpose of the trip was to learn dances and culture because we knew that other tribes had their dances and we wanted to learn ours,” Billy said.
Elders taught the youth group dances and stickball while Curtis and his wife Teresa served as translators.
Instructions were received in Choctaw, then recorded and taught in English.
From 1974-2004, Curtis served as Indian education coordinator and school counselor at Broken Bow High School.
Throughout his tenure he developed the Indian Arts & Crafts class and founded the American Indian Leadership Youth Council.
Under his leadership, the first Choctaw Language class was offered at Broken Bow for course credit.
Students were taught stickball, journalism, photography, silk-screening, primitive pottery, traditional weaponry, stickball making, Choctaw dances, bead work, basketry, pottery and textile art.
Many of today’s stickball players and coaches were introduced to stickball through the school system and A.I.L.Y.C.
His Choctaw dance group and stickball team traveled the state performing for schools, organizations and tribal festivals.
Several former students went on to teach culture to others within their communities and careers.
“I think of Curtis as a cultural carrier and I want to thank him for blazing the trail for the tribe,” Batton said.
The unveiling ceremony involved Choctaw dancing, Choctaw hymns, gifts and speeches from alumni.
A traditional Choctaw meal was served and a stickball game was played in his honor.
(from left) Chief Gary Batton, Curtis “Tody” Billy and District 2 Councilmember Tony Ward stand in front of the stickball field in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, named in honor of Billy.
Players from Tvshka Homma, Chikasha Toli, Okla Hvnnalu and Southeast Thunder team up to play an exhibition game in honor of Curtis “Tody” Billy.