SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – This past July, the World Games, a world competition held every four years consisting of 36 sports, announced its eight teams in men’s and women’s lacrosse competition. The Iroquois Nationals were not one of them.
The criteria for the teams selected was based off the top eight finishers in the 2017 Women’s Championship and the 2018 Men’s World Lacrosse Championships. The men finished third, the women finished 12th.
“I never imagined that happening, but it didn’t surprise me,” said Lyle Thompson, a member of Onondaga Nation who played with the Iroquois Nationals in 2014 and 2018 helping the team earn a bronze medal. Thompson starred at Onondaga Central before setting NCAA career points and assists records as a back to back Tewaaraton Trophy recipient.
Originally, Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Japan and the United States were set to play in the games.
But in August, the Ireland Lacrosse team did what no one expected pulling out of the 2022 World Games to open a spot for the Iroquois Nationals to play. Ireland gave the Iroquois no indication it would make the move.
“We were very overwhelmed. It was such an incredible gesture of sportsmanship. Especially in this day and age. You don’t see a lot of people taking sacrifices like that whether its personal or organizations or what have you,” said Lyons.
“It’s really gonna help Ireland lacrosse because the Iroquois nationals are going to commit to growing that relationship,” said Thompson.
The Iroquois Nationals are planning to bring a team over to the U19 World Championships held in Ireland in 2021 with that goal in mind.
Being overlooked is not something new. The team has had something to prove since it first began in the 1983, when now team board member Rex Lyons played.
“Now you know 30 plus years later we’re medalists. We’re a force to be reckoned with,” said Lyons, a member of Onondaga Nation and one of the teams nine board members.
The only teams ahead of the Iroquois Nationals on the field in rankings are the U.S. and Canada. But off the field the Iroquois world position hasn’t been as clear.
“Outside of the Iroquois Nationals, fighting for our sovereignty has been an everlasting cycle. The Iroquois Nationals have really taken the step in representing all of indigenous people in fighting for sovereignty,” said Thompson.
“You don’t ask permission to be sovereign as you are,” said Lyons.
There are a lot of steps for the acknowledgement athletically, if not politically. Lyons compared this journey to climbing a mountain.
“You have to be a nation state within the United Nations which we are not. Part of our challenge get is that we are located in the US and Canada so it makes it much more complicated and difficult to come to an agreement on terms and conditions,” said Lyons.
“We travel on our own passport. And we’re hopeful that we can come to some sort of agreement (in talks with Canada) to get our passport validated to where we have a barcode in it and that’s really one of the big steps.”
This year’s World Games are being used as an Olympic qualifier for the sport of lacrosse for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The fight will continue leading up to that event, but now that the Iroquois Nationals have their chance thanks to Ireland, they don’t want to miss their opportunity to share their sport on an even bigger stage.
“The medicine of lacrosse is really been starting to work. I can see it,” said Lyons. “It’s our gift to the world.”
“It brings happiness to everyone. Everyone can come together and watch lacrosse. That’s how it’s always been,” said Chase Scanlan, a member of Seneca Nation and entering his second season with Syracuse. “Being Native American and doing it for Iroquois nationals it’s an honor.”
The games are still more than a year away, but the members of the team look forward to proving they are ready for the next step.
“The best way to be ready is to go win a gold medal at the world games, that’s one way to do it,” smiled Lyons.
“We’re heading in the right direction. And once we hit the Olympics that will be a dream come true. Hopefully it’s in my time and I can play in it that would be unreal,” said Scanlan.