Since the gift of the Creator’s game, Dey-Hon-Tshi-Gwa’-Ehs or Lacrosse, the Onondagas and the Haudenosaunee have long enjoyed playing this intense physical and intellectual game. But like most things, there are special abilities and talents that individuals possess that are needed even before the game can begin. One of those individuals is the Stick Maker. For over 50 years at the Onondaga Nation, that title has been held by Louis or Alfred Jacques.
Louis Jacques (Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame Inductee in 1999) began coaching and stick making for the Onondaga Athletic Club in the 1960s. His dedication and love of the game fostered championship teams and players who choose a Louis Jacques stick as their stick of choice.
After Louis passing in 1985, it was his son, Alfred or “Alf”, who continued in his father’s footsteps of the gift of making the sticks for the men who play Lacrosse.
The first part of making a wooden lacrosse stick is selecting the right tree. Alf goes out into the woods and finds the Shagbark or Bitternut Hickory tree. The hickory tree is used because of its tight grain which allows the stickmaker to carve and sand the wood into a durable, strong, and smooth stick. After the tree has been cut, Alf uses all parts of the tree. The trunk for the stick itself, the rest is used to make snowsnakes, cornsoup paddles, and to fire the steamer in the shop.
After the stick has been drying for at least 2 months, Alf is able to take the sticks to the “steamer.” The “steamer” is used to bend the Hickory into the shape that most people regard as a lacrosse stick. When the cured wood is ready, Alf is able to shape the future stick for “runners” (offensive and defensive players) and for goalies.
Carving the Stick
After the stick has been drying for at least another 10 months, the artistry and craftsmanship learned from his father is put to good work. Working on a “carving horse”, he is able to use a drawknife to gradually carve the rough piece of Hickory into a stick. Often Alf and a player will work together to create a stick that is specialized for their style of play. To make sure the “feel” is right in the players hands, he is constantly checking the balance and thickness as he carves. Because of Alf’s attention to detail, his sticks are made to display a players talents in scoring, passing, loose balls, face offs and checking.
The stick is now ready for the final phase, the netting. Alf takes much care into the netting for each stick. He nets the stick to enable the ball to roll freely out of the stick to allow the player to shoot or pass with ease. The stick is now ready to be played in the best game on Mother Earth, Dey-Hon-Tshi-Gwa’-Ehs!
The Cycle Begins Again
Today, Alf is still making a high quality stick that can used in the indoor box leagues and the outdoor game. In fact, Alf supplied the 6 foot long defence sticks for the Iroquois Nationals that were used in the 2002 World Games in Perth, Australia.
In order for the tradition of stickmaking to continue into the 21st century, Alf takes the time to teach our young men his gift. Like his father Louie, Alf looks to the young talented carvers to continue making traditional wooden lacrosse sticks enabling “the game” to go on.