Lincoln, Neb: Tucked away in central New York State is the Onondaga Nation, a sovereign Native American community known to produce some of the top lacrosse players in the world. Yet, the fear of leaving their community, substance abuse, and poverty have kept far too many of these players from venturing off the “Rez” and into collegiate or professional ranks.
Enter the Thompson brothers–Jerome “Hiana” and Jeremy–who are driven by a single goal of beating the odds against them and playing lacrosse for national powerhouse Syracuse University. During the brothers’ freshman and junior years of high school, they led their school’s lacrosse team to state championships. Based on this success, many people, including the film’s director/producer Lukas Korver, assumed they would compete for the state championship again.
“Lacrosse is more than just a game–it’s a way of life, it’s a heritage. It’s being Iroquois. It’s being Native American. It’s a part of their culture, their religion, who they are,” Korver said.
During the playoffs of their senior year, the undeniably close brothers had a shockingly out-of-character fight in the school parking lot, leaving Hiana hospitalized and unable to play lacrosse during his recovery from a broken jaw. Without Hiana on the field in the school’s next playoff game, Jeremy’s play suffered. The team lost, ending their chances at a third state championship. It would take two years before the brothers’ relationship healed to what it had been.
Hiana and Jeremy’s father, Jerome “Ji” Thompson commented, “They started school late and they’ve come from so far behind to catch up and do as well as they’re doing now. And, just to get that degree to show everybody, because I know there are people out there that actually know them that don’t think they can do it.”
“A lot of people say that it’s bad around here. But myself, I don’t know. I think it’s just like any other child growing up anywhere else,” said Jeremy.
With their now unfulfilled dream of winning a third state championship, the brothers heavily pursued their ongoing, shared vision of playing lacrosse for Syracuse University. Athletically, the brothers were standouts, but academically, they struggled. The obstacles in their way were frequent and daunting, but their love for the game, each other, and their family’s unyielding determination, helped propel these youth against the odds.
Ji, who doesn’t want his sons to be ironworkers like himself and generations before, explained, “The greatest gift you can give your children is your time. I taught my boys to respect the game–the game of lacrosse. Respect means to play as hard as you can, you know. Go out there and give it everything you can because you’re playing for the Creator.”
“I titled the film The Medicine Game because the game has helped not only the Thompsons, but many families and communities to stay healthy both physically and mentally, to bond with one another, and to learn many powerful life lessons,” said Korver.
To watch the film’s trailer, visit www.visionmakermedia.org/medicine_game. The Medicine Game is distributed by American Public Television (APT) and will be available to Public Television stations nationwide Tuesday, April 28, 2015. For broadcast information in your area, please visit pbs.org/stations.