Last summer, the Minnesota Lax-4-Life camp was held at the Fond du Lac reservation, near the city of Cloquet, in northeastern Minnesota. It emphasized the importance of the “Creator’s Game” for at-risk youth in Native American tribal communities in Minnesota, and was a collaboration between the man who came up with the idea, Clint Letch, president of the Native American Law Enforcement Summit, and the Minnesota Swarm, whose father-and-son owners, John and Andy Arlotta, helped make Letch’s dream a reality.
Outfitted by suppliers Bite Tech and Under Armour, nearly 30 children from five western Wisconsin and Minnesota tribal communities were taught about the historical and spiritual importance of the sport to their heritage by Swarm players and coaches. The kids were taught about lacrosse’s ancient Native history (some archaeologists place the game’s inception all the way back to the 5th century), got lessons in the game’s modern tactics, with a special emphasis on how the sport can improve the lives of those kids who choose to spend their time weaving through defenses rather than running with gangs, or using alcohol and drugs.
The kids also took part in a practice session before the Swarm’s Jan. 8. home-opener at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. During halftime of an Oneida Warriors game, a demonstration on the field showed how the sport had changed from its ancient roots to the modern version. An ancient lacrosse match could involve more than 1,000 players, who wore no pads, and who competed on a field that could be as long as five miles.
The Swarm have been involved in Native American outreach since the Arlotta’s bought the team two years ago. “Twenty-three percent of the best lacrosse players in the world are native American,” co-owner Andy Arlotta says. “The past two years the number one overall pick in the draft has been a Native American from college. You have eleven reservations in this state and not one lacrosse program. We felt if we could build some relationships we could use the sport of lacrosse in many ways to battle some of the issues we hear about on reservations.”
The Swarm executives have committed to a three-year partnership with the Prairie Island Indian Community to build a lacrosse program. Swarm players and coaches have been on the reservation twice a week since last August, working with the kids in an after school lacrosse program. And what great coaching these kids are getting: Notre Dame Goalie Scott Rodgers, Native American Swarm player Travis Hill, and past pro player and current offensive Swarm coach Aime Cains are donating their time. Thanks to these efforts, the Prairie Hill Reservation will have the first Native American lacrosse team in the state, which will compete in the Swarms Youth Box lacrosse league and then in the summer as part of the Minnesota youth lacrosse. The Swarm’s Native American Lacrosse Program Coordinator, Brian Kimmel, says the kids who participated in last year’s camp will hopefully be competing in the Indigenous Games this July in Milwaukee.