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He stopped in the lobby, at the trophy case, and pointed at its most eye-catching display, a lone blue warmup jacket with red-and-white piping on the shoulders, hanging on a wire hanger. There's no placard, no list of accomplishments, no explanation. "Here's Lee," Lyons said.
He was one of the best ever, they say. That mattered to Leroy (Lee) Shenandoah; whether he was doing ironwork or playing lacrosse or serving in the Army, nothing less than excellence would do. "I used to be afraid to fry him an egg—everything was perfection," says his sister, Beulah Powless. "And his temper: If [his wife] Deena didn't iron the pants just right? He'd rip them in half. She didn't get upset. She knew."
From the late 1950s through the '60s, Shenandoah put his ferocity and skill to work in the box for the Onondaga Warriors, precursors to today's Senior B Can-Am Lacrosse League entry, the Redhawks. Shenandoah was a lean and fast force who could shoot, dodge, pass and defend. He could power or slash to the goal. "He was like [Alex] Ovechkin: He could score, he could run you over," says Freeman Bucktooth. "And when he spoke, you listened."
It was easy, once he was dead, to make Shenandoah a symbol of the tragic Native experience, illustrating all the bad that could befall an Indian who ventured off the rez. After dropping out of high school at 16 and becoming a high-iron foreman on construction sites at 17, Shenandoah joined the Army and became so accomplished a Green Beret that he marched in the honor guard at President Kennedy's funeral. Less than a decade later, in March 1972, he died at 32 after being shot five times and kicked by Philadelphia police, who claimed he had attacked them and resisted arrest—until film of the incident surfaced that raised questions about the police version of the events. The two officers responsible were never charged with a crime.
"The war's not over," Lyons says with a smile. "Not by a long shot."
These days Shenandoah's legacy burns most fiercely with the Iroquois Nationals. He had a way of looking out for people, sometimes even white opponents in the box. "He knew I was naive and a target, and many times he could've leveled me," Slugger Simmons says. "But he'd come up and say, 'Roy, I'm doing you a favor: Keep your head up.'" Shenandoah was close to the Bucktooths and kept an eye on young Freeman, first babysitting him, then teaching him all he knew about the game. Nobody, Freeman says, had better all-around skill, and from Shenandoah he learned most of what he knows about winning face-offs, the subtleties of stickhandling, the value of spying on the opposing goalie during warmups. "And he could fight," Bucktooth says. "Nobody would mess with him."
No wonder, then, that fisticuffs became Freeman's trademark too. For a decade he led the Senior B League in scoring; he once rang up 19 goals in a game. But ask about him and the first thing everyone mentions is how he brawled in the box as a teenager, cutting through other teams' enforcers, leaving a line of 25-year-old men facedown, needing stitches. Bucktooth played two years at Syracuse for Slugger Simmons, who knew the effect that Freeman's "Geronimo look"—high cheekbones, shock of black hair—could have on nervous whites. Whenever the team bus rolled onto a new campus, Simmons made sure that Bucktooth was first man off. "I'll scare 'em," Freeman would say.
College life didn't take, but Bucktooth carried Shenandoah's perfectionist bent into adulthood. He put in 80 hours a week climbing poles, repairing high wire for Niagara Mohawk Power. He dragooned his sons into helping him build their log-cabin home with 140 precisely notched timbers—no nails. He overhauled the structure of kids' leagues at Onondaga to expose hundreds of young Iroquois to more and better competition and coached them at every level from Peanuts to Juniors, traveling with the six-year-olds into Canada one year, taking the U-19s to Australia another, making his voice heard on the Nationals' governing board.
Knowing that college lax was one sure route out of the rez, Bucktooth insisted on teaching field techniques in the box, guiding all the Iroquois boys to cradle and pass and shoot off both wings. And always in his mind he would hear Shenandoah's voice, preaching toughness, a hunger to win every ground ball. "We could never get through a scrimmage, couldn't go three minutes without the whistle stopping and him instructing us: It should be done right. Practice how you play in the game," says Freeman's third son, Brett. "And if you're playing against your best friend and you don't cross-check him or you let him pick up a ground ball, he said, 'I don't care if he's your best friend: Go hit him.' The game's meant to be tough."
Of course, all four Bucktooth boys and their countless cousins—"Go out in the woods," says Jacques, "and you'll step on one"—lived Freeman's philosophy. This year, with Freeman coaching the offense, Brett at midfield and 29-year-old Drew at attack, the Nationals will again have Bucktooth marks all over them. The family's influence is pervasive; any afternoon at Onondaga Nation Arena, Freeman can still be found roaming the box during youth practices, even down to the Peanut division, where four- to six-year-old boys pump their little legs up and down the floor. Brett and other Nationals vets will be there, too, coaching their own sons; every few minutes another kid will be sent sprawling by a vicious slash. The men give each boy a moment to lie there, then tap a foot with a stick: That's enough. Let's go.