ARDMORE, Okla. – “Centers, get back to your spots,” Okla Hannali President/Coach Jay Mule yelled to his players during a recent stickball game. “Shooters get up there and block for him.”
Stickball was used as an alternative to settle disputes and disagreements between neighboring town and tribes whom only wanted to use war as a last result. This is how it received the name “little brother of war”.
Today, wars and battles between tribes and towns remain in the history books, however, stickball is still as intense among the teams and tribal members that play it.
Most stickball teams play for their respective tribes or reservations.
Okla Hannali, a.k.a. Sixtown, is a team that does not go by that rule. Sixtown stickball consists of men and women, from tribes such as Choctaw, Mississippi Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee and Kiowa.
Okla Hannali is an inter-tribal stickball team that began in 2004 when founder Jay Mule (Choctaw) was asked to help facilitate practices for another Native American Club called the Dream Catchers.
Almost immediately, stickball became very popular within the Ardmore community. Over time, what started in Ardmore began spreading to other towns and cities.
“Sixtown is different because, I believe we are the only organized stickball team out here in Oklahoma,” Mule said. “I allowed anyone that wanted to play, to come play. If they wanted to learn this sport that our ancestors played I was very happy for that. It is great that there are other tribes that are interested and want to get involved and get a better understanding of stickball.”
Sixtown member David Watson (Kiowa/Miss. Choctaw/Okla. Choctaw), or “Smiley Wattz” as he is known among his friends, commented on the tribes that make up the Oklahoma team.
“This is normal for us,” Watson said. “I love how we have all these tribes together. We are not restricting ourselves to a certain belief or a certain religion that some tribally-sponsored stickball teams do. We are open to everyone’s beliefs. Whoever wants to play stickball and is willing to help get our team better, we want you on our team, regardless of what tribe you belong to.”
Stickball is played without pads or protective gear like other sports such as football and lacrosse.
There are 30 players on the field at all times for each team. Players know they are going to get hit when playing this sport. Injuries are common. Players have to be carried off the field at times.
“That is what this is [stickball],” Watson said. “It is the ‘little brother of war.’ When you come out here that is what you have to have your mindset on, ‘war’. You have to get your mind right and get your head in the game and do your job for whatever position you play for your team.”
Jake Roberts (Creek/Cherokee), plays shooter for Sixtown.
“When I am out there playing,” Roberts said. “I am out there representing my tribe, family and Sixtown. I am playing the best that I can. I know everyone else feels the same way. Whatever the outcome is, I know that is the way it has to be.”
Okla Hannali has members all over the state and some outside of Oklahoma. Their ultimate goal is to get to the World Series of Stickball, which is held in Mississippi in July. They also play against other teams in Oklahoma. They also hold training camps and clinics for the youth between practices.
“One thing we want to instill is confidence and pride for our younger culture,” Mule said. “We want them to carry this on after we no longer can play. Not only does stickball help them culturally but it helps them physically as well. We as Native people struggle with a lot of health problems such as diabetes.”
Okla Hannali is considered a new team in this sport but a majority of the members have been playing for a number years.
“It shows how strong this sport is for us,” Roberts adds. “Our ancestors played over 100 years ago and they kept this going by passing it down to the younger generation. We are doing the same thing. It also shows the resiliency we have as Native American people.”
For more information on Okla Hannali, training camps, clinics and practices, contact Jay Mule at 580-340-1672 or Jake Roberts at 918-798-1463.
– Reprinted with permission of Muscogee Nation News
Okla Hannali, a.k.a. Sixtown, finishes a New Year’s Day stickball game in Ardmore, Okla.
DANIEL ROBERTS | COURTESY PHOTO