One young man’s stickball skills have had a direct impact on earning a scholarship to play lacrosse at St. Gregory’s University.
Allen Baker is one of the first Oklahoma Choctaws to get the chance to play collegiate sports because of his involvement in stickball. He joined Texoma Lacrosse in November, and began playing in the youth league in February. But Baker’s athletic history runs a little deeper. He was a stand-out center and defensive end for Caddo High School football, and participated in basketball, track and weightlifting. He plays stickball with Team Tvshka Homma, and also helps coach in the youth league. Not only this, but he holds down a part-time job, and has recently joined the National Guard.
“I like having the background of stickball,” Baker said after signing his letter of intent in Chief Gary Batton’s office. “It helps with lacrosse in so many ways. It keeps you fit, it gives you hand-eye coordination and toughness.
“More than anything, it means a lot to bring my culture up to Shawnee,” he said.
When Baker takes the field next spring, it will be symbolic of a sport coming full-circle, from the brink of extinction to playing a role in its modern, northern counterpart.
Historians think lacrosse may have developed among woodland peoples of northeastern North America nearly a thousand years ago. George Catlin’s painting ball-play of the Choctaw illustrates the connection between the two versions of the sport.
In recent years, the game has enjoyed a comeback in Mississippi and Oklahoma. Now, with Baker’s scholarship, he becomes a trailblazer for future young Choctaws who want to utilize their stickball skills as a crossover to another sport.
“It’s quite an honor to have a tribal member such as Allen representing the Choctaw Nation,” said Choctaw Nation Chief Batton. “It is our culture, history and game of stickball that are helping him to get this scholarship. It’s keeping our culture alive, and it will help people learn about it.”
St. Gregory’s Lacrosse coach Bryan Seaman recognized the link between his sport and the Choctaw game of stickball. “Historically, they come from the same place.” But it was more than stick skills and fleet-footedness he saw in Baker. “He could easily be a guy who steps into a leadership role,” Seaman said. “He’s a great athlete and a tough-minded individual. He has a lot of people backing him.”
This includes Texoma Lacrosse Coach Mike Delloro of Madill, who introduced Baker to the sport.
“What he will bring to St. Gregory’s is heart. He is a person of purpose,” Delloro said. “He is the most coachable player I have had.”
Parents Robert and Tracy Baker, along with Allen’s sister Raven, all play stickball and participate in Choctaw language and cultural activities. “He’s the first one out of my family to play a college sport,” Robert said. “And St. Gregory’s is a great college, so he’ll get a good education there.”
It’s perhaps fitting that a family of stickball players is among the first to see one of their own take this skill set to the collegiate field. Chief Batton made this connection: “Like the rest of Choctaw culture, it’s a family event.”
The Cavaliers are wrapping up their 2015 season, but Baker will play competitive lacrosse next spring. He plans to study kinesiology at St. Gregory’s with the goal of becoming a physical therapist.