American Indian Hall of Famer Jim Warne’s Warrior Society football camp follows in the footsteps passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years – elders teaching the young ones, who in turn, carry the message.
This weekend, Warne, Oglala Lakota, is working with the Seneca Nation in New York. His camps include NFL combine drills to teach agility, speed and change of direction for improvement in many sports.
Warne has spent the past 10 years traveling across Indian Country hosting camps and bringing his knowledge and the game to reservations across the country. His travels take him from Washington, Arizona, Idaho, California and New York. Next week, he and former Arizona State teammate Randall McDaniel, a NFL Hall of Famer, will travel to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota for a camp.
Warne’s message is always the same: “Sports is the job, but education and culture is the means.” The Warrior Society camp is sponsored by a Seneca elders group in the community called “The Grandparents Club.”
“I’m always telling the kids the West Coast offense was started by Indians,” Warne told ICTMN. “The Carlisle Indian School with Pop Warner pretty much invented the forward pass. In their day, they were unstoppable. I always remind them of history.”
Seneca Rory Jimerson, 20, who is volunteering at the camp, says that this message goes beyond the football field.
“Jim asked me to help with the drills and the camp,” he said. “He’s been talking about eating healthy and hydrating. The drills we’ve been doing are all sport oriented. This is big lacrosse country and the drills we’re doing will help in every sport they play. Teaching these kids at such a young age about health and exercise will hopefully lead they down a good pathway and give them direction.”
Part of the camp is about the medicine wheel philosophy and a balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional components. Despite being from different Native nations, the message is still clear.
Uriah John has been going to the Warrior Society camp for the past six years.
“We’re learning lessons in life and how to deal with them,” the 14-year-old Seneca said. “We’re strengthening our minds on how the community works by bringing in different elders from around the area. It’s a lot of fun having a Lakota coach because we’re learning new things. This isn’t just about getting stronger physically, but mentally too. In football, you might deliver a big hit and knock somebody down. But you can also go over there and help them up.”
The camp is free to the 80 Seneca kids participating this year. And it continues to grow each year.
“Sometimes it’s so much fun, they forget how hard they’re working,” Warne said with a laugh. “Some of them are a little behind, but they step up. We tell them, ‘It’s up to you. You have to finish.’ The obstacle course is over 100 yards long and they’re sprinting through it. They like the parachute run, and they don’t realize how hard they’re working.”
Zachery Cruz, 18, has been participating in the camp for the past four years. It’s an honor, he says, to be asked to help run the drills this year. “This camp is amazing and it’s good to have one of these in our community,” he said. “It keeps the kids active and builds teamwork. It gives us situations where we have to help out each other. We cheer each other on and let them know they have support. We help to encourage, not discourage.”
Warne, who was a part of Arizona State’s Rose Bowl victory in 1987, and a former NFL and Arena Football League tackle, was inducted into the American Indian Hall of Fame, in 2004. His goal is to make sure that all his students know the proud history of American Indians in football.
“Mr. Warne tells us you can get off the rez and get an education, but to remember that you represent your nation and your people to the rest of the world,” John said. “The Thompson brothers (Onondaga) for example, have gone on to play professional lacrosse. I’m looking to be the first Seneca professional athlete.”