Professional lacrosse returns to Syracuse Thursday after a 13-year hiatus. The Syracuse Stingers will take on the NY Lax All-Stars at 7 p.m. at the War Memorial in the team’s first home game.
It all started with a phone call to Neal Powless from the Professional Lacrosse League. Powless, 38, of the Onondaga Nation, is a former All-American and professional lacrosse player. He plays offensive forward for the Stingers and played for the Syracuse Smash in 1999 and 2000. The PLL had a couple of teams fold operations and needed a replacement to fill those dates. They asked Powless if he could put together a team, and he agreed.
“That turned into buying jerseys and creating a logo,” Powless said.
After a few scrimmages and tournaments, the team wanted to schedule a home game to check the market and see if professional lacrosse is a viable product.
“My hope is that there has got to be a good amount of people that are going to want to check that out, just for nostalgia’s sake, to see a game played at the professional level in the War Memorial,” Powless said.
The Stingers’ record is 0-5 but some games were lost by only a point and without a full roster of players.
“This is fun to compete. Let’s maintain this idea of community and connectedness through this sport,” Powless said. “Growing up at Onondaga, it’s part of our culture and our heritage. No matter when you play or where you play, you feel connected to the game, you feel connected to your ancestors.”
Another way Powless tried to introduce people to the sport was through the 2012 movie Crooked Arrows, for which he was a “cultural adviser.” The story is about a high school Native American lacrosse team that goes up against the elite Prep School League.
“Some of the guys in the cast grew up traditional like me, grew up with the same values and morals,” he said. “I knew that if they did the script the way it was originally written, they wouldn’t have been able to come home with their heads held high.”
Powless said he wanted to develop the main character from a Native perspective to allow non-Native people to learn from his culture.
“I did it for those guys to make sure that when they came home, they could be proud of what they did,” he said. “It put my reputation out on the line because if it didn’t come out that way, then everyone would have looked at me and said, ‘That’s your fault.’ ”
Powless said people’s reaction to the film has been positive, for the most part. Some of the lacrosse players from the movie, such as Tyler Hill and Alex Cook, play for the Stingers.
“We have guys on the roster that are actually cast members because they are that high-quality lacrosse player,” he said.
Powless said he is excited about creating an entertainment experience at the event at the War Memorial.
“You have a whole generation of fan-base that went to the Stingers in the 70s, then you have their kids who went to see the Smash in the late 90s, and now you have another opportunity for a new generation of fans,” Powless said. “How lacrosse has grown is exciting. I want to be a part of creating a way for that growth to develop. I want to see it.”
Powless is helping organize the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. One venue is the Onondaga Nation arena. Powless said the goal is to recreate a lacrosse brand that will educate people in Syracuse about the sport and get fans from the War Memorial to the Onondaga Nation Arena.
“We’re going to be bringing in international teams from all over the world. Israel has committed to say they’re coming,” Powless said. “They want to come to a Native community and play lacrosse there because they know where the game comes from.”
Powless said people from some countries in Asia where most don’t even know how to play indoor lacrosse have asked him if they can bring their teams out a month early so he can train them, just to say that they competed.
“If we have people from Thailand saying we’ll try to figure it out, why won’t people from Syracuse help support our professional lacrosse team and world games?” he asked.