I can’t think of any sport with a history and culture as rich as lacrosse. The strong feeling of community among players, coaches and lacrosse families and their shared respect for America’s first sport are wonderfully expressed in The Spirit in the Stick, by Neil Duffy.
Robbie Jones is a fourteen-year-old lacrosse player, a young talent. He’s been noticed by lacrosse legend, former naval aviator and test pilot Jim Lewis, who has determined that Robbie will be the next recipient of an important gift. The gift is a special hand-made, wooden lacrosse stick, over two-hundred years old, with both Cherokee and Iroquois origins. Lewis received the same stick from another legend when he was about Robbie’s age. And he has been only one in an exceptional line of “custodians” who have absorbed the full history of the sport and have learned difficult life lessons from the spirit in the stick.
There is a lot to this story. As Robbie travels in time to learn about the history of lacrosse and the stories of the stick’s previous custodians, you might be tempted to compare it to Honus and Me, by Dan Gutman, a very good story about a boy and a special Honus Wagner baseball card. But The Spirit in the Stick is something else entirely.
This is a book that is first about honoring the history of lacrosse, about respecting the game, about discipline, teamwork, about being strong of mind and body. But it’s also a book about injustices and persecution, about heroes in war, about the human element of war, about sacrifice and loss. Even still, tracing back to its Native American origins, it’s about being in touch with and respecting the subtle but powerful forces of nature.
Duffy has constructed a very original narrative and history of the game, long overdue, using lacrosse legends, coaches, military commanders, Cherokee and Iroquois to set an example that teaches important life lessons. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Spirit in the Stick. The author’s reverence for the game and its history and the bonds that result emphasize above all else the importance of human integrity.
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