Learning life lessons through lacrosse
If it weren't for an incorrect date, Bryan "Bear" Bosto never would have gotten a second email from the White House Office of Public
If not for that mistake, Bosto wouldn't have opened the second email and realized that what he thought was junk mail the first time was actually a letter of congratulations.
"You have been selected as a 'Let's Move! and Physical Activity Champion of Change' as part of President Obama's "Winning the Future" initiative (whitehouse.gov/ champions)," the email said. "On March 22, we will honor leaders who are doing great work to increase access to physical activity for youth in their community."
"I spent the whole day trying to figure out if I was dreaming," said Bosto, director of the Brookston Community Center. "It didn't really sink in until I'd gotten two or three more emails."
Bosto was nominated for his work making the LAX-4-Life (lacrosse) camp - held the past two summers on the Fond du Lac reservation - a reality.
Although bringing the sport of lacrosse to the Fond du Lac Reservation is an exciting idea on its own - particularly because the game of lacrosse was invented by Native Americans - what makes the LAX-4-Life camp even more exceptional is its emphasis on what happens off the field.
"It's not just getting [lacrosse] sticks and going out to have fun," Bosto explained. "There are classroom sessions throughout the week, on things like tobacco cessation, diabetes, health effects of bad eating habits and more.
"Then the coaches reinforce those messages: They tell the kids, 'If you're going to be an athlete, you need to make smart choices, healthy choices.'"
Out of 600 nominations, only 13 people were honored, including Bosto. Each Champion of Change discussed his or her program for close to five minutes, Bosto said, adding that he made some excellent contacts as a result.
"It was beneficial to the programs because there were a lot of people there with money," he said. "People from the Department of Interior, Under Armor, Soccer Plus, ... a lot of people looking to fund projects like this."
Chuck Walt, executive director of tribal programs, nominated Bosto for the award. But Josh Baker, assistant director at the Brookston Community Center and lacrosse coach-in-training, traveled to D.C. with Bosto, because of his own work with the lacrosse camp.
The Creator's Game
Organizers of the first LAX-4-Life camp at the Fond du Lac Reservation didn't start with the rules of the game. Instead, they started with a history lesson.
Professional lacrosse player Travis Hill told the teenagers at the first camp that lacrosse is in their blood.
"For Natives, there's a deeper connection to the game," said Hill, who grew up playing lacrosse in Canada. "We play for different reasons, mainly that it's 'The Creator's Game.' We play to entertain Him. It's a medicine game, too. If someone is sick, they'll call for a game to help them heal."
Although Native Americans were playing lacrosse in the Great Lakes region as long as 900 years ago, the sport was nearly lost to its first practitioners. After Montreal dentist William George Beers wrote up formal rules of field lacrosse in the 1860s, the sport gained popularity in Canada as well as the U.K. In 1880 all Native Americans were banned from international competition because it was discovered a few had taken money (likely to pay for travel) to play amateur field lacrosse. The ban would last more than 100 years.
Bosto said he never played lacrosse growing up, it wasn't really a sport that was on anyone's radar around here.
"A few elders remember hearing their own grandparents talk about playing the game," he said. "It's really been an eye opener for us, learning the history."
The first camp at Fond du Lac was the result of a partnership between three entities: the Minnesota Swarm professional indoor lacrosse team, which provided coaching and technical assistance; Fond du Lac, which provided financial backing as well as the field, food and accommodations; and the I-CARE (Indian Crime Awareness, Research and Evaluation) justice department program, which helped coordinate the camp and bring kids from other reservations.
"What Bear is doing here is the first of its kind, for sure in the state of Minnesota," said Andy Arlotta, co-owner of the Swarm, at an interview during the first camp. "I'm thinking there are 55,000 registered Native Americans in the state and 11 tribes and not one that has an organized lacrosse team."
That first year 27 boys from different reservations around Minnesota and Wisconsin attended; the next year they invited girls, too, and the numbers shot to 48. This July, Bosto said, they're aiming for 60 campers.
Right where he wants to be
Born in Minneapolis, Bosto and his family moved to the Brookston area when Bryan was 8 years old.
"We moved into a house right down the road from here," he said from his desk in the Brookston Community Center.
Growing up, Bryan went to AlBrook schools, where he was not one of the school's leading athletes.
"My Super Bowl is Election Day," he said. "I've always been into politics and government and that kind of stuff."
He was also into improving the lives of the kids growing up in Brookston. As a teenager, Bosto was a part of the discussions about what should go into a community center there. He was part of the youth program in Brookston in the 1990s [at the Mahnomen House] before the community center itself opened in 2000.
Bosto was Brookston Center manager in 2004-2005, then worked as the Sawyer Youth Program coordinator from 2006 to 2009. He started his second stint as the Brookston Center manager in September of 2009.
"It does give you a sense of ownership," he said. "Actually, I decided in 1994 that I either wanted to be the center manager or the Brookston Representative."
One dream achieved, one to go. He's working on the second: On Tuesday night, Bosto learned that he had advanced through the primary election in the race for Brookston Representative.
It was in Sawyer that Bosto started working on starting a local sports program that could take Fond du Lac kids to the Indigenous Games.
"They offer 16 sports, so we started developing wrestling and Taekwondo programs," he said. "Not lacrosse."
Then, by chance he said, Chairwoman Karen Diver met Clint Letch of I-CARE and told Bosto he ought to see if there was something they could do together. So Bosto emailed him and pretty soon they were talking about working with the Swarm on a lacrosse program.
Bosto has no regrets about embracing lacrosse instead. It's been a great program.
"When you hear kids that went to the camp asking, 'When will we do it again?' and hear them talking to their friends about what they did at camp, how they met the Swarm owner, ... when they give you grief about smoking, you know it's working," he said. "And how many times will you see a kid come in with a lacrosse stick and some Swarm gear to play by himself, so he can teach himself. That tells me this program is making a difference."
In the meantime, plans for this summer's camp are coming along nicely. Bosto said the University of Minnesota is donating lodging at the Cloquet Forestry Center for the next five years (a $50,000 value) and the Minnesota National Guard is partnering financially and bringing their obstacle course and tents, as well as planning demonstrations for the campers throughout the week.
Bosto and Baker also have plans to start a seasonal lacrosse program at the Brookston Center this year. Bosto said they're hoping to start practices in the fall, and play in the youth box lacrosse league starting in January. For more information or to help, call Bosto at 218-878-8048.