January 7, 2007

What are the origins of the game called Stick Ball?


We are producing a television programme in the U.K. covering the subject of ‘Traditional team sports played throughout the world’. We are interested in filming a documentary about the traditional sport ‘Stickball’ and would like to speak to someone involved in the organisation of this sport. Could you possibly let me know someone I could contact?

The programme will not just focus on the sport, but also on the origins of such a sport, and the culture surrounding the sport. We are trying to highlight the importance of sport to different regions in each country, and how it is still very important to each and every culture.Many thanks for your help.

–Submitted by Stuart M.


Hi Stuart,

Anejodi, or “Stickball” is usually referred to in modern times as LaCrosse, since it is very similar to the European game of the same name, which actually evolved from the rules of the indigenous stickball games. It’s played most by Canadian Iroquois bands such as the Mohawk Akwesasne and the Caughnawauga bands. The Mohawk Six Nations Reserve is located in Ontario, Canada, across the border from New York. Stickball is also played by the Choctaw, the Cherokee in both Oklahoma and North Carolina, and many other tribes.

Early descriptions of lacrosse, from missionaries such as French Jesuits in Huron country in the 1630s and English explorers, such as Jonathan Carver in the mid-eighteenth century Great Lakes area, are not detailed and often conflicting. They inform us mostly about team size, equipment used, the duration of games and length of playing fields but tell us almost nothing about stickhandling, game strategy, or the rules of play.

The oldest surviving sticks date only from the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and the first detailed reports on Indian lacrosse are even later. However, several Indian tribes say they have been playing this game for thousands of years.

George Beers provided good information on Mohawk playing techniques in his Lacrosse (1869), while James Mooney in the American Anthropologist (1890) described in detail the “[Eastern] Cherokee Ball-Play,” including its legendary basis, elaborate rituals, and the rules and manner of play.

Almost exclusively a male team sport, it is distinguished from the others, such as field hockey or shinny, by the use of a netted racquet with which to pick the ball off the ground, throw, catch and convey it into or past a goal to score a point. The cardinal rule in all varieties of lacrosse was that the ball, with few exceptions, must not be touched with the hands.

There are three basic varieties of stickball games, based on the equipment and the type of goal used, and the stick handling techniques: the Southeastern, Great Lakes, and Iroquoian. Among southeastern tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Yuchi and others), a double-stick version of the game is still practiced. A two-and-a half foot stick is held in each hand, and the soft, small deerskin ball is retrieved and cupped between them.

Great Lakes players (Ojibwe, Menominee, Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox, Miami, Winnebago, Santee Dakota and others) used a single three-foot stick. It terminated in a round, closed pocket about three to four inches in diameter, scarcely larger than the ball, which was usually made of wood, charred and scraped to shape.

The northeastern stick, found among Iroquoian and New England tribes, is the progenitor of all present-day sticks, both in box as well as field lacrosse. The longest of the three, (usually more than three feet), it was characterized by its shaft ending in a sort of crook and a large, flat triangular surface of webbing extending as much as two-thirds the length of the stick.Where the outermost string meets the shaft, it forms the pocket of the stick.

Lacrosse was given its name by early French settlers, using the generic term for any game played with a curved stick (crosse) and a ball. Native terminology, however, tends to describe more the technique (ie. Onondaga DEHUNTSHIGWA’ES, “men hit a rounded object”) or, especially in the southeast, to underscore the game’s aspects of war surrogacy (“little brother of war”). There is no evidence of non-Indians taking up the game until the mid-nineteenth century, when English-speaking Montrealers adopted the Mohawk the-hon-tsi-kwaks-eks, or the Creator’s game, they were familiar with from the Caughnawauga and Akwesasne, attempted to “civilize” the sport with a new set of rules and organize into amateur clubs.

Once the game quickly grew in popularity in Canada, it began to be exported throughout the Commonwealth, as non-native teams traveled to Europe for exhibition matches against Iroquois players. Ironically, because the Indians had to charge money in order to travel, they were excluded as “professionals” from international competition for more than a century. Only with the formation of the Iroquois Nationals in the 1980s did they successfully break this barrier and become eligible to compete in World Games.

Apart from its recreational function, lacrosse traditionally played a more serious role in Indian culture. Its origins are rooted in legend, and the game continues to be used for curative purposes and surrounded with ceremony. Game equipment and players are still ritually prepared by medicine men, and team selection and victory are often considered supernaturally controlled. In the past, lacrosse also served to vent aggression, and territorial disputes between tribes were sometimes settled with a game, although not always amicably.

A Creek versus Choctaw game around 1790 to determine rights over a beaver pond broke out into a violent battle when the Creeks were declared winners. Still, while the majority of the games ended peaceably, much of the ceremonialism surrounding their preparations and the rituals required of the players were identical to those practiced before departing on the warpath.

A number of factors led to the demise of lacrosse in many areas by the late nineteenth century. Wagering on games had always been integral to an Indian community’s involvement, but when betting and violence saw an increase as traditional Indian culture was eroding, it sparked opposition to lacrosse from government officials and missionaries. The games were felt to interfere with church attendance and the wagering to have an impoverishing effect on the Indians. When Oklahoma Choctaw began to attach lead weights to their sticks around 1900 to use them as skull-crackers, the game was outright banned.

Meanwhile, the spread of non-native lacrosse from the Montreal area eventually led to its position today worldwide as one of the fastest growing sports (more than half a million players), controlled by official regulations and played with manufactured rather than hand-made equipment—the aluminum shafted stick with its plastic head, for example. While the Great Lakes traditional game died out by 1950, the Iroquois and southeastern tribes continue to play their own forms of lacrosse. Ironically, the field lacrosse game of non-native women today most closely resembles the Indian game of the past, retaining the wooden stick, lacking the protective gear and demarcated sidelines of the men’s game, and tending towards mass attack rather than field positions and offsides.

There is also a street game played in urban inner-cities called stickball, that is a spinoff of baseball. They have an organized stickball league.


Evolution of Native American Stickball into the modern game of LaCrosse

This is a historical timeline of the evolution of the native american stickball game into the modern game of LaCrosse.

A-ne-jo-di, or Stickball, is a very rough game played by many Indian tribes
A-ne-jo-di, or Stickball, is a very rough game played by not only the Cherokee, but many other Southeastern Woodland tribes including the Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, and others.

The Cherokee Stomp Dance

The traditional religious dance of the Cherokee is the Stomp Dance. Part of the day’s activities includes the playing of a traditional stickball game.


International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Associations (IFWLA)

IFWLA was formed in 1972 to promote and develop the game of women’s lacrosse throughout the world. Inaugural members were Australia, England, Scotland, Wales and the United States. The number of member countries has doubled as lacrosse has spread. New member countries are from Asia and Europe and interest is now spreading into South America.

Canadian LaCrosse Association

The Canadian Lacrosse Association is recognized as the governing body responsible for all aspects of Canada’s National Summer Sport.

US LaCrosse Official Site

National teams, museum of LaCrosse, rules of the game, extensive links.

NDN Sports
A website devoted to native americans in sports.

Choctaw Stickball

A Choctaw description of the kabocca game we call stickball.

Historical descriptions of the stickball game

The sport of lacrosse is derived from a Haudenosaunee game of great antiquity called, in Oneida, Ga-lahs. This ancient tradition has been brought back into the daily lives of Oneidas. Today the men’s team, the Silverhawks, competes against other Haudenosaunee teams in the Iroquois Lacrosse Association.The Oneida Nation also sponsors a lacrosse stick-making class taught by Russell George.

Native American Sports Council

The NASC conducts community based multi-sport programs which encourage healthful community participation and provide assistance to Native American Olympic hopefuls.

North American Indigenous Games

The NAIG is a celebration of sport and culture for North American Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island (North America).

The Mayan Ball Game was the first team sport in human history.

The Mayan ball game has been played in Central America for over 3000 years. It is the basis for all other “ball and goal” team games, similar to shinny, lacrosse, and other football, basketball, soccer type team ball games. To learn more about the game, go to this site where you can download a free plug-in and play a version of the game. Although this site is slow loading, it’s really worth the wait.

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