Mahnomen, MN- Aime Caines, assistant coach of the Minnesota Swarm of the National Lacrosse League, spent his seventh wedding anniversary teaching more than 150 kids lacrosse in Mahnomen.
It wasn’t about spreading a game to a wider audience. It was about reintroducing a game to people who had it in their blood.
“Lacrosse is a love of mine, especially in the native community,” Caines said Wednesday at Day 3 of the inaugural four-day White Earth Nation Lacrosse Camp. “It’s part of who I am. I do it for the kids and give back the sport to kids that haven’t gotten to experience lacrosse.
“It’s their sport and for them not to play it is not fair. Bringing it back to them and realizing this is our sport, we’re connected to it and the reception we get is amazing.”
The history of the sport of lacrosse begins as early as the 17th century with Native American communities. It began with 100 to 1,000 men from opposing villages carrying what were essentially big wooden spoons with no netting on open plains trying to score a wooden ball on goals 500 yards to six miles apart.
Monday through Thursday, the Swarm brought lacrosse to Mahnomen, home to the White Earth Indian Reservation – the largest Indian reservation in Minnesota.
“The first day is where we show them the history of the game and where it comes from and where it belongs and why they play,” said Caines, who found out a few years ago he’s part Native American. “I think it really hit home. It’s not like we’re coming in and teaching them hockey.
“We’re teaching them their game. When they realize that they’re instantly connected to it. It’s part of them.”
Joan LaVoy, who is the director of education of the White Earth Nation, said she had tried things like baseball and softball events, but the kids did not respond like they did to lacrosse.
“When the kids saw the lacrosse sticks they immediately picked them up,” LaVoy said. “They gravitated to it because they have a connection with it. I hope this becomes an annual event and we’d love to see the game in the school systems.”
Swarm all-time leading scorer Callum Crawford made the trip from Ottawa, Canada, to be part of the camp. He understood the significance.
“Where I’m from we have a lot of Mowhawk and native reserves around and lacrosse is everything to them,” Callum said.
“The day that they’re born, they’re provided a stick. Here, this is part of their heritage from way back when, so to have your hand in reintroducing the game is something special. This is what makes being a professional lacrosse player worthwhile.”
Lacrosse doesn’t need a boost in numbers. A 2013 participation report done by US Lacrosse – the national governing body of men and women’s lacrosse in the United States – found that nearly 750,000 players participated in lacrosse on organized teams, which was an increase of 25,000 from the 2012 report.
More than 400,000 played at the youth level, more than 290,000 played at the high school level and more than 36,000 played at the collegiate level in 2013.
The camp in Mahnomen was not about participation numbers. It wasn’t about the present state of the sport of lacrosse. It was about more than a game.
“For me, I grew up playing,” Caines said. “I didn’t realize the connection I had until just a couple years ago when I found out we have native blood.
To dedicate my life to a sport and realize I have that connection without even knowing…now that I know it, it means so much more.”