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S2, E5, Part 1: “Stickball, Little Brother of War: Brenner Billy, Choctaw”
When you think of certain sports like football, you think rough, tough and full of injuries. But that’s nothing compared to say, rugby. Now THAT’s a dangerous sport. But have you heard of a sport that involved a goal to settle disputes between tribes, and sometimes so fierce that it ended in death?
The players of this game prepared for what was to come by painting their bodies and limiting their diet, drinking Spanish Tea made of bark from red oak trees, and by not eating and sleeping for several days and nights. By the time of the event, they were filled with adrenaline and rage, ready to take on their rivals.
At the signal, it all begins. As many as 1,000 men from opposing tribes screamed their war cries to the incessant beating of drums. The preciseness of thrusting a minuscule ball onto a narrow pole could only be performed by generations of warriors inheriting and honing their skill and focus - that same focus of those who hunted the stealthy deer and the swift-moving chukfi (rabbit).
Lasting for days, from sun-up to sundown, whoever won, won not just the dispute, but also their tribe and oppositions’ respect. With no protective gear, no referees and very few rules, this brutal and bloody event sometimes even meant death.
Today in part 1 of “Stickball, Little Brother of War” we discuss the spiritual and hard-core game of stickball, where even as recent as 1937, an eyewitness named Frank Grall was interviewed from Wewoka, Oklahoma while watching a stickball game saying, “…but when the first fellow got the ball, some player hit him over the head with a club, peeling the skin until it hung over his ear. The battle was so fierce, that when the game was ended and one side had been chased from the ground, the pool was perfectly bloody.” (The pool he’s talking about is where the women would pull the men from the game and place them in pools of water to try to get them to regain consciousness.) He then said, “This was the last Indian ball game played in such a brutal manner, for the Government took notice of such brutality and sent deputy marshals to the games to prevent such cruelty. At this game I saw players bite one another.”
Yep. Definitely rough.
As we talk about this historic and spiritual game that’s still played today, who better to talk about it than expert, Brenner Billy (Choctaw). He comes from a long line of stickball players, he’s a damn good player, and even he’s a master at making the sticks – a skill passed down to him by family.
And, please stay tuned for upcoming part 2 of “Stickball, Little Brother of War” where I’ll meet with both a filmmaker who documents the world of stickball, as well as one very strong Chahta oyoho (Choctaw lady) and total stickball rock star.
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