Indian team booted from Lacrosse LeagueBy Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today RAPID CITY – A Rapid City-based team, made up primarily of Native American teens, has been banned from a South Dakota league, ironically in a game which has its roots in indigenous nations. The 7 Flames Lacrosse Team was founded, sponsored and trained in Rapid City over the past three years. The team developed from a few Native American youth who wanted to bring this traditional North American game to the area. The team has trained over 150 youth (boys and girls), but last month the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League (DPLL) banned this team from playing in the largest lacrosse league in the area. According to the DPLL website, their mission “is to grow the sport of lacrosse in South Dakota by providing a fun and exciting learning environment for the sport with competitive games for all ages that teach kids the benefits of fair play and sportsmanship.” This is a resounding mission statement, but the reality of this league’s treatment of indigenous players and their coaches is much different. According to the Oglala Sioux Tribal member and 7 Flames Coach, Jeremiah Moreno, 34, DPLL is exclusive, filled with corruption, and favors non-Native teams and players. The league and its questionable calls has been receiving some national attention from ESPN and USA Today, recently. A red flag has been thrown. Coach Moreno began coaching the 7 Flames at the request of the youth he mentors at the Ateyapi Program at Central High School and through Cody Hall who has been a part of the Native American lacrosse movement happening in the area over the past few years. Coach Moreno was chosen because of his own participation in the sport as a player out of Denver, Colorado. “You’re interviewing me, but it’s the boys’ team. It’s there’s,” said Coach Moreno. “I have coached about 150 kids, so far. I guess you can call us an unorthodox organization. We kind of have to scramble around for games.”
The 7 Flames Lacrosse Team is a part of three major Native American lacrosse teams across the state and part of the grassroots movement of bringing this indigenous game to South Dakota. 7 Flames was able to acquire equipment to meet the standards of DPLL through generous donations from several universities across the nation; including Brown University. Coach Moreno sees his team as his “own kids and brothers” on many levels. His own daughter has played on the Shock lacrosse team, which is part of the Black Hills Lacrosse Association. “When we first moved back here from Denver, there wasn’t a lot of lacrosse happening. My daughter wants to follow in mine and my sister’s footsteps, so we searched the internet and found the Black Hills Lacrosse Association,” he said. “But come to find out, there is a whole movement of Native lacrosse teams across the whole state. There were teams in Rosebud and Sisseton. There’s some real cool dudes coaching these teams. My introduction came from Kevin DeCora out of Mission and Rosebud,” said Coach Moreno. “And obviously, Cody Hall.” Doug George-Kanentiio: Where are all the Native lacrosse coaches? From the standpoint of a new coach, on a new team, Coach Moreno concedes the beginnings of his team and their start has been challenging. “Organization is not our strong point, but we do generate interest because we’re a Native team. When we first started, I was their coach, ride home and equipment manager. I set up the goals for practice and I’d buy mouthpieces for them out of my own pocket,” the coach said of equipping his players to be in the game. He says it’s the same role that all the coaches on the Native American teams in South Dakota are playing, in order to get the game off the ground and into the leagues. Part of the struggle of getting a team into a league is sponsorship and finances. Purchasing the equipment, jerseys, sticks and helmets is only half the battle, says Coach Moreno. The other piece to getting a grassroots team into any league is the fees. For the DPLL, the fees for one season, for one team (7 Flames had three teams in the 2017 season) are $2,500. “We got money out of our own pocket and went around to find as many sticks as we could. We just started stockpiling a bunch of equipment. But when they (team) was ready to go to a tournament, we contacted Cody Hall. A lot of credit goes to him going out to visit teams and coaches who had an open mind about where the game originated; who the game belonged to,” said Moreno. “He got equipment donated.”
It was Bruce Long Fox, Executive Director of Rural American Initiatives and Moreno’s employer at the Ateyapi Program, who sponsored the teams’ league fees. “There were league fees, field fees, referee fees and all of these fees. I was like, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’”, he said. “Each kid had to pay $25 or $35 one per year.” The fees did not include travel expenses to games and tournaments. For Native American youth, these fees can be nearly impossible; as many come from impoverished communities and from families on low incomes. Many of the 7 Flames team players live in abject poverty. Lacrosse is their escape in many cases. “We asked all of our players who could not pay those player fees. Many of them couldn’t, so I paid out of my own pocket for those kids,” said Coach Moreno. Coach Moreno is a soft spoken person, who chooses to use actions to speak versus words. In recognizing the student athletes for their talents, he is providing opportunity where opportunity is not always existent. Following the end of last season (2017), Coach Moreno was contacted by organizer, Cody Hall that the 7 Flames were banned/barred from the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League, due to circumstances which included uncertified coaches, forfeiting of games, and other reasons which Coach Moreno blames on racism from the league. Rather than supporting student athletes, teams and their coaches through guidance, understanding and inclusive tactics, 7 Flames along with the other two predominantly Native American teams were kicked out of the league for the 2018 season, according to Coach Moreno.
Upon hearing about the banning from Hall, Coach Moreno struggled with the student athletes he coached, as the players continued to post on social media about working on their game. He would read their posts on Instagram and Facebook, knowing he would have to give them the bad news of their banishment. “They were devastated. I saw their love of the game on social media. They were practicing and getting ready for the season, going out on runs, fielding grounders, playing wall ball, working on the toe drag, getting the drop step down; this was the type of language that they used,” he said of following his players preparing for their upcoming season. “You can tell that they had wanted to stay strong, because that’s how Native people are. We have our pride. This wasn’t the first time we were banned from lacrosse anyway,” he says in reference to the United States banning of American Indians from practicing traditional ceremonies and activities related to ceremonies. Lacrosse is known as The Creator’s Game. “If you look at history, we weren’t able to step onto the field as Indian people, until the 1980’s. Up until the Religious Freedom Act (1978), it was still illegal for Indian people to step out onto the field to play lacrosse, their own game.” Coach Moreno believes that the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League and Corey Mitchell who runs the league is intimidated by having Native American players. Coach Moreno shared stories of games the 7 Flames played in which a referee was refereeing a game in which his own son was playing. In most sports, this would be a conflict of interest, but for DPLL this was acceptable. At the time Coach Moreno tried to bring his concerns up about the ref and player being related, he claims the 7 Flames had nine calls against them and the opposing team had zero. “They are scared of what these young men are able to do,” Coach Moreno said.
According to a statement made to Coach Moreno regarding the future of the 7 Flames by Cody Hall, they are not currently certain of their next step, but wanting to be in a league which is slanted towards the non-Native teams and players is not currently on the field of play for the three banned Native American teams. They have high hopes of creating a league of their own in the future, but that is still too early to call. Sports leagues are designed to help children develop the skills necessary to become successful players. Successful players go on to colleges and universities on full-ride scholarships. Depriving children access to the game deprives children of opportunity and lessens the impact these student-athletes have on their communities. The 7 Flames continue to practice for any game against any team who will play them. Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards at email@example.com Copyright permission Native Sun News Today Related Stories:
Doug George-Kanentiio: Where are all the Native lacrosse coaches? (April 2, 2018)