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My night at the Tewaaraton Awards 2015 - Celebrating Taylor Cummings

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Once again, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Tewaaraton Foundation demonstrate that sometimes an award is more that just an award.

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Republished by permission of Terp Talk

Tewaaraton 2015 Panorama

In sports, just as in conferring awards, sometimes the favorite wins and sometimes there are upsets and surprises. At the 2015 Tewaaraton (pronounced in its native Mohawk "dey-wah-ah-la-dohn") Awards - the award given to the nation's best collegiate male and female lacrosse players the expected came to pass. For the first time in the history of the award, a men's player repeated as the Tewaaraton winner. Albany's Lyle Thompson flew solo in 2015 after sharing the award with his brother Miles the previous year. Michael Powell of Syracuse is also a two time winner but not in consecutive years.

The women's side also had a repeat winner, Maryland midfielder, Taylor Cummings. Cummings joins teammate Katie Schwarzmann and Northwestern's Hannah Nielsen and Kristen Kjellman as back to back winners. Only a junior, Cummings will have a chance to become the first three time winner in the brief history of the Award.

In addition to Schwarzmann, Cummings joins Maryland alums Caitlyn (McFadden) Phipps and Jen Adams who won the first Tewaaraton in 2001, as Tewaaraton winners. No Maryland man has won the award.

I first attended the Tewaaraton Ceremony in 2014 and, in writing about it for Testudo Times, tried to share my experience from the beginning of the evening to the end with my readers. Though the people changed, the overarching structure of the ceremony didn't.

The evening begins in the grand atrium of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and attendees have the chance to mix with friends, family and supporters as well as some of the better known figures in the world of lacrosse. After about two and a half hours of this mingling and what, in the catering business, I believe they call heavy snacks, the ceremony moves into the Rasmussen Theater for the awards presentation.

The Ceremony Part One - The Scholarships

Each year the Tewaaraton Foundation, which administers the award, celebrates one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy -- the Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes and opens the proceedings with a traditional prayer. Coincidentally, 2015 is the year of the Onondaga Lyle Thompson's tribe.

The first awards presented are scholarships. Each year, US Lacrosse and the Tewaaraton Foundation annually present scholarships to one Native American male and one Native American female high school student-athlete and lacrosse player. This year's scholarships were presented to Lynnzee Miller, Mohawk Nation, Wolf Clan and Chaunce Hill, Six Nations Seneca, Turtle Clan.

I start with these awards not merely because these students deserve recognition, but because those who are fortunate enough to attend the ceremony are reminded throughout the evening of the spiritual importance of the game of lacrosse to the native people who invented it. They refer to the sport as a "Gift from the Creator" and find healing powers from participating in it.

In her essay, Miller wrote about being the only Native American player on a team of non-indigenous players. She wrote, "I get the honor to  teach my teammates the spiritual significance of the game of lacrosse and how it is used as medicine and not just a game to be won." Hill's essay added, "Hopefully, this means I am a role model for my native community and a respected representative of my culture in the non-native community reflecting that lacrosse will always be here not only for me but also for everyone to use as their healing medicine."

The Ceremony Part Two - The Spirit of Tewaaraton

2015 Spirit of Tewaaraton

Chief Oren Lyons Accepts his Award by video

The next presentation is the Spirit of Tewaaraton. This award is given to "an individual involved in the sport of lacrosse, who nobly reflects the finest virtues exemplified in the game, and who, over the course of his or her life, has made a significant contribution to society and to the lives of others." The eighth winner of the Spirit of Tewaaraton is Chief Oren Lyons.

When coach Roy Simmons, Sr. saw Lyons play on the Onondaga reservation, he offered Lyons a scholarship to Syracuse. Lyons became an All-American who was a straight A student and, together with another Syracuse All-American, Jim Brown (yes, the great running back) led the team to an undefeated season.

Lyons became an artist and social activist. In 1972, he led the Trail of Broken Treaties - a delegation to Washington, D.C. to negotiate with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor its treaties with Native American tribes. Lyons, who is on a mission in Australia, attended through his son and via a videotaped message.

Lyons began his message talking about how the players become spirits but, in a lighter moment, he noted that the Onondaga name for the sport is "Ka-cheek-wah-eh" which means "they bump hips" and he told of his surprise when "they took the hip check out of the game." He spoke of the fundamental importance of having the award in the name of the native people and our their cosmology "has this game being played on the other side of the stars while this earth was still covered with water."

The Ceremony Part Three - The Tewaaraton Legend Award

Tewaaraton Legend 2015

Brad Kotz accepts the 2015 Tewaaraton Legend Award

Native Americans have played lacrosse for centuries. Universities have fielded teams for decades. Cornell won the first NCAA Championship in 1971. The University Club of Washington established the Tewaaraton Award in 2001. They created the Tewaaraton Legend Award in 2011 to honor a player "whose performance during their college years would have earned them a Tewaaraton Award had the award existed when they played." The 2015  recipient was Brad Kotz who played for Syracuse from 1982-1985.

Although I have attended the two most recent Tewaaraton Ceremonies principally to celebrate the achievements of Taylor Cummings, once again, the true emotional highlight of the evening came not with her personal triumph. Last year, the Spirit of Tewaaraton was presented posthumously to Navy's Brendan Looney, a Navy SEAL who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in September 2010, and I needed a few minutes to recover from that moment. This year, and for a very different reason, the emotional apex was the acceptance speech by Brad Kotz.

He began simply by congratulating Oren Lyons,

"I wish Oren could have made it hear from Australia. He is an amazing man who embodies these awards and the history behind them better than anyone I can imagine. I am completely humbled to share this night with even the spirit of this man."

He then addressed the finalists nothing that he'd watched most, if not all, of them play and called them amazing athletes. He went on,

" You guys and gals are now in the spotlight and you're carrying the torch for our sport. So value this role that you're in now and the opportunities that are in front of you. More than anything else, pass on to others the many lesson in life and in lacrosse that our sport has given you. As I've gotten older, I've realized that coaching, mentoring and teaching are the greatest rewards that this sport has given me.

"And stay humble. It's okay to believe you're better than anybody else on the field but never act like you're better than anyone."

He came back to the notion of the history and spirituality of lacrosse nothing how the Foundation plays a vital role in showcasing the sport's heritage in an honorable way,

"I know a lot of the kids that I coach from this area don't have a connection to the Native American community and I think it's important to remind them regularly where this sport came from.

"I played in high school and college in central New York where we had connections with the Native American community.

I always looked forward against our rival which was Lafayette High School very near the Onondaga Reservation so it's roster was mainly Native American. Those games always had more spirit than any other game we had that season. I'm not sure what it  was but I always felt somehow enlightened by playing against them.

"We always had two to four Native Americans on the Syracuse teams. I think Coach Simmons planned it that way - knowing that it was their sport and perhaps we would learn to play with their reverence. To play for someone or something like they played for the Creator."

The Ceremony Part Four - The 2015 Awards

The first award presentation goes to the outstanding women's lacrosse player. A brief video highlights the achievements of each of the five finalists who are then introduced singly and alphabetically by surname to receive a plaque and the acknowledgement of the audience.

Of course, since it's only women's lacrosse, when listing the season's accomplishments for Taylor Cummings, the presentation made a misstatement or two by omitting her statistical contribution to the NCAA championship game win. They attributed 95 points and a team leading 35 assists to the Terrapins' junior midfielder while crediting her with 41 ground balls, 136 draw controls and 35 caused turnovers. In truth, she finished with 100 points, 37 assists 143 draw controls and 36 caused turnovers. Since she didn't pick up a ground ball in the title game, they got that one right.

Cummings, the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year, led the conference in per game averages for points, draw controls, ground balls and caused turnovers. Nationally, she ranked 23rd in goals and assists per game, fifth in points per game (though her 100 points led the country) and fifth in draw controls and draw controls per game. She set or surpassed her career highs in each of those categories.

The four finalists who wouldn't win the award were Shannon Gilroy of Florida, Boston College's Sarah Mannelly, Notre Dame defender Barbara Sullivan, and Kayla Treanor of Syracuse. Gilroy and Treanor were 2014 finalists as well.

Ryan Kuehl of Under Armour, who became a sponsor this year, announced the award, "I am pleased to announce the female recipient for this year's 2015 award, ‘fear the turtle,' Taylor Cummings.

Her voice cracking with emotion, Cummings thanked the Tewaaraton Foundation and the National Museum of the American Indian and "everyone who made this night so amazing." Brief and to the point, she added,

"It's a huge privilege to be here. I'd also like to congratulate all the nominees. It's a real honor to be in the same category as these people. This award isn't for me, it's for my Maryland family. I go out there every day and I get to play with the best coaches, the best people and most of all the best teammates and I love you all so much. Individual awards are great but it wouldn't happen without my team. I wouldn't be here without you guys. So this is for you. I love you and Go Terps!"

The presentation of the men's award followed the same pattern as the women's award - a video, the introduction and presentation of plaques to the finalists and the inevitable announcement of Lyle Thompson who finished his career as the NCAA's all-time (men's) leader with 400 career points as the men's winner.

Thompson's speech more or less brought another wonderful evening to a close although I did have the opportunity to chat with Kotz and some of the finalists before I left to take the Metro back to Wheaton. I, too want to thank the Tewaaraton Foundation and the NMAI and to congratulate two very deserving winners, Lyle Thompson and the Terrapins' Taylor Cummings.

2015 Tewaaraton Winners

Taylor Cummings and Lyle Thompson with their Awards