Stickball has been a part of Choctaw life for hundreds of years. Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa. Each team tries to advance the ball down the field to the other team’s goalpost using only their sticks, never touching or throwing the ball with their hands. Points are scored when a player hits the opposing team’s goalpost with the ball.
The earliest historical reference to Choctaw stickball was a Jesuit priest’s account of a stickball game around 1729. During that period, the Choctaws lived in towns and villages scattered across the area that is now southern Mississippi. When disputes arouse between these communities, stickball provided a peaceful way to settle the issue. These games were hard-fought contests that cold involve as few as twenty or as many as 300 players.
In his book The Mississippi Choctaws at Play: The Serious Side of Leisure, anthropologist Kendall Blanchard describes what an 18th century game might of looked like:
“The nature of the playing field was never strictly defined. The only boundaries were the two goalposts at either end of the playing area and these could be anywhere from 100 feet to five miles apart, as was the case in one game in the 19th century…”There were no boundaries on the sides of the playing field, and the game’s action simply followed the ball. Many times spectators were rousted from comfortable vantage points as the fleet-footed, fast-swinging…athletes scrambled after a far-flung pass…
“The rules, like the layout of the playing field, were ambiguous and limited to only three or four stipulations. Of primary importance was the restriction that no player was to touch the ball with his hands, using instead only his sticks to carry and throw the small ball. At no time were spectators allowed to interfere with the process. If they did, a penalty was assessed against their team…
“While players could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball, there were implicit limits to acceptable violence.”
Mississippi Choctaws continue to play stickball. When the first Choctaw Fair was held in 1949, stickball was an important event, but it involved only a handful of teams. Today, anywhere from 8 to 10 teams meet during the fair in a single-elimination tournament. The championship game closes out the fair, with the fans filling the Choctaw Central High School football stadium to cheer their teams on.
Modern stickball has a few more rules than tis historical predecessor. These are printed and distributed to all players before the fair begins. The game is played in four fifteen-minute quarters. Players still score points by hitting a post which is set up in the middle of the football goal post. They still advance the ball without touching it, using their kabocca. The appearance of the players is different, too. For most of the 20th century, players wore handmade uniforms consisting of pants hemmed just below the knee and open-necked, pullover shirts. These were made in the community colors and decorated with the diamond patterns found on traditional clothing. In the late 1970’s, there uniform gave way to gym shorts, but many players now wear headbands with the diamond design in community colors.
Stickball, as it is played today, remains a uniquely Choctaw sport and a symbol of tribal identity. So that boys will have a chance to develop their skills there are two age divisions for young people’s teams. Occasionally, women’s teams will take the field in exhibition matches.
The resurgence of interest in stickball has kept several Choctaw craftsmen busy. The kabocca and towa used by the players have to be handmade. The kabocca are carved from hickory and bent at one end to shape the cup of the stick. then leather or deer hide thongs are tied to make the pocket in which the players catch and carry the ball. The towa is made from cloth tightly wrapped around a small stone or piece of wood. Once it is wrapped to the desired size, the maker weaves a leather thong over the cloth.
A fast and furious game of stickball
Photo:© Choctaw Community News
Getting the feel of the kabocca
Photo:© Choctaw Community News
More facts about Choctaws:
Eastern Mississippi is home to the Mississippi Choctaws. In the 1800s the United States government forced many Choctaws to move to Oklahoma, along with other tribes. The United States wanted Choctaw land for white settlers. At one time the Choctaws lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, too.
Have you heard of the Code Talkers? Choctaw was one of the first Indian languages used in World War I to send secret messages for the U.S. Army. The enemy never figured it out, and the Choctaw soldiers were honored for their contribution. Choctaw language is still very important to the Choctaw people, who work hard to protect it from extinction.
There are language programs in schools, and language classes are part of summer camps. Besides learning Choctaw, students learn how to design Web pages. Many kids like using the digital camera and image-editing software the best. Students put lots of information about Choctaws on the Web, including the Choctaw Fair.
The Choctaw Fair is a weeklong event held every July. There are pageants, cultural exhibits, Choctaw social dancers from each community, rides, entertainers, and tons of visitors from all over. You can have traditional food like holhponi, or fresh hominy. Visitors can see Choctaw artists make their famous swampcane baskets in the museum, or attend the Stickball World Series.
Owanah Anderson [1926– ], Oklahoma Episcopal Church leader, women’s rights activist
Philip Martin [1926– ], Mississippi tribal leader
Phil Lucas [contemporary], Oklahoma film producer, director
Poarch Band of Creeks, Chitimachas, Tunica-Biloxis
NOTE FROM CHERYL: I have some of my own stickball pictures I will try to post at a later date. I have watched the Mississippi Choctaws play stickball… The roughness/toughness of NFL Football is NOTHING compared to Indian stickball. They carry players off massively bleeding, on stretchers. It’s the most intensive amateur athletics I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder if Tommie Harris would be tough enough to hang with some of our Choctaw boys? Ha! Oh… he probably could – for a minute or two anyway!
YouTube – real choctaw stickball
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The game of stickball has been played by the Choctaw in Mississippi for 400 years and at one time was used in place of war to settle disputes between Native American groups. The modern sport lacrosse is a direct descendant of stickball. The game is extremely fast-paced and physical, but simple. The only two rules are that players can’t touch the ball with their hands and can only tackle someone in possession of the ball (body checks are legal anytime). The field consists of a pole at either end and the purpose of the game is to hit the opponents’ pole with a ball comparable to a hackey sack. In the process, players can receive some nasty wounds from rough play and being hit by the kabocca.
Many times, Choctaw stickball teams travel to festivals for competitions, and they are a tough opponent. The Choctaw often will try to trick their opponents, using different strategies and techniques each time they play. But when the Choctaw play on the reservation, they don’t hold back! To the Choctaw, it’s not just a sport, it’s part of their identity and they don’t like to lose. They’ve been playing it since they could walk and every game is an intense game. THEY TAKE THEIR STICKBALL SERIOUS, FOLKS!
Choctaw County, MS
Posted by roboblogger Feb 22, 2008