Cherokee Stickball

Little Brother of War

Stickball began in prehistoric times as a way for tribes to settle disputes without going to war. Although incredibly violent and fraught with danger, the death or severe injury of a few men was preferable to the more significant deaths and injuries sure to occur in full-fledged warfare.

Stickball is similar in some ways to the historic game of lacrosse, except that the ball is carried and thrown with two sticks that grasp the ball rather than with a single stick as in lacrosse. The ball is made of a rock covered with hair, and then it is covered again with hide, which is sewn on with sinew, making a cover akin to that of a baseball.

The sticks are typically made of hickory because of its hardness and common occurrence in the eastern woodlands of North America, where the game originated. The top of the stick is thinned, heated, and bent back onto the neck to make a small frame not unlike that of a tennis racket, only much smaller.

A webbing is then made for the head of the stick, typically of sinew although leather can be used as well. The game was historically played on a large field, and teams scored by throwing the ball through a goal. Lacking referees or rules–other than the fact that women couldn’t participate–players were allowed to move the ball with their sticks in any way they could, and, more importantly, to interfere with the opposing team’s control of the ball. It was the equivalent of hockey where the stick was a legitimate implement for hitting the other team members. There were no time outs, and no substitutions. Games could last for days and were filled with injuries, as the players battered each other with their modified clubs.

The medicine men played a prominent role invoking the proper blessings, and also invoking counter-blessings against the opposing team. Medicine men would try to find the opposing team’s village trail to the playing field and hex the trail. Purification and fasting were also ritual elements of the game.

The game is still played throughout the Cherokee Nation, only now there’s a pole in the middle of the playing grounds that’s 25 feet tall, with a wooden fish on top of it instead of a goal. Players try to hit the fish, and get three points for each hit. Hitting the pole one foot below the fish scores a single point. Women are now allowed to play, but instead of sticks they play with their hands. The men may only use sticks, and may not hit the women.

The women are under no such rules, and can tackle, hit, push, or do anything necessary to get the ball. In most games of stickball, the women almost always win.

In the East, stickball is still only for men, and it is still an anything-goes sport. Today it is played at the Cherokee Heritage Center during special events like Cherokee National Holiday, and against other tribes in the region.

Stickball is included as part of the tour of the Ancient Village, and visitors are invited to participate.

For more information about the Ancient Village and related programs, please contact:
Phone 918 456-6007 or 888-999-6007