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Kahnawa’kehró:non coaching Belgium lacrosse

Courtesy Jamie Kirby

The Belgium Lacrosse Federation just started a new box lacrosse program in the country, hiring Ontarian lacrosse coach Jason Tasse to lead their first team in its first international tournament.

Tasse needed a right-hand man to be on his coaching staff, someone he knew would bring the right spirit to training. So when he reconnected with longtime friend and teammate Jamie Kirby at a tournament in February, he had found the right guy.

“I’ve always had an appreciation for Jamie,” Tasse explained. “He always has this wonderful demeanour, a competitive spirit, but respect for the game and the opponents. As a coach, you want to make sure that the culture you’re responsible for reflects the values of the team and where you want to take the team. When it comes to the bench staff, you really want to select somebody that compliments you.”

He knew he would find all that in Kirby. 

Kirby is back in Kahnawake again, still processing the experience of being in Germany for the European Box Lacrosse Championships coaching for the first-timer Belgium team from July 30 to August 6. 

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I got from Jason and the Belgium national team for allowing me to help with this,” he said.

It was all made sweeter for the Kahnawa’kehró:non as he was able to take his son Tanakehrahne Jay Kirby with him, who was added to the coaching staff as well and managed the door for the players rushing on and off the field during games.

“He loved it. He’s just getting into lacrosse, and he was totally right into it,” said Kirby. “My other friend Neil Powless from Onondaga nation also brought his son out there; he’s the coach for the Netherlands. So that was pretty cool.”

Left to right: Jamie Kirby and Neal Powless

Belgium came out of the tournament in 13th place out of 14 teams, “not bad for guys that never played the game before.”

The players were familiar with field lacrosse, but they had to learn the specifics of box lacrosse before playing their first-ever tournament.

“We got beat a lot, but we learned a lot. They learned a lot, and so did we as their coaches.”

When asked what he learned, he joked: “I learned that they need to step it up,” he said with a laugh. “They don’t play as rough as us.”

Belgium did manage one win in the tournament against Serbia.

“It’s pretty amazing for them,” said Kirby. “They should have seen the look on their faces winning their first international game ever for their country.”

One thing that surprised Kirby was the passion for the game he saw in Europe and the reverence for its origins. 

“I didn’t know they had the passion and the love for the game as much as we do here, as Natives and Iroquois. There’s individuals there that live and breathe it just like some out here.”

He asked someone working for the tournament if they could hang an Every Child Matters flag alongside the country flags.

“I just wanted it along the fence because they changed all the flags every game for whoever is going to be on the field.”

The man, who was already familiar with what the flag represented, instead hung it up on the top of a flagpole right next to the playing field, towering above the rest. 

“He just removed one other one and replaced it with that flag for the whole week. And it was even there when we left.”

His son was very popular with the other players and those working at the tournament, who often came up to have discussions with him about his wooden stick, which was a novelty there, and the history of the game and culture. 

That cultural aspect that Kirby, his son and Powless could bring to the tournament was valued by everyone, said Tasse.

Courtesy Jamie Kirby

“Prior to the Netherlands game, Neil Powless had approached me with Jamie and said, ‘How would you feel about we interlock all the players in a circle, and we pay tribute to the game?’ And we loved it.”

Before the game, they had the players stand in a circle, opposite teams, side by side, and interlock arms. 

“Neil and Jamie came to the middle, and they honoured the game. And as we walked back to the bench, a few of the players said to me, ‘That’s amazing. That is one of the most humbling experiences; it really connects me to the game.’ That was really an added benefit of having Jamie on the bench. 

“He wasn’t just a lacrosse ambassador. He had this wonderful heritage and enrichment and connection to the game that I would say the entire tournament appreciated,” said Tasse.

Kirby said that he had to raise about $6,000 to get himself and his son over there to coach. He thanks Rainbow Distribution on Highway 138, Playground Poker, Bart Goodleaf, and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake for helping fund the trip.

Next year, Kirby will likely go again and hopes that the positive experience everyone had will show the community the benefit of funding this trip of cultural exchange.

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Savannah Stewart is a writer, editor and translator from Montreal currently reporting with The Eastern Door. She is the contributing editor for the arts for Cult MTL and her work has also appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Ricochet, Maisonneuve Magazine and The Rover. She tweets at @SavannahMTL.

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