There’s a big difference between superstition and ritual. Superstition deals with the element of luck. Ritual, on the other hand, is rooted in preparation. Eye black to me is part of the ceremony and a reminder that it’s time to flip the switch.
When I first learned about lacrosse, through my Brothers, I was immediately captivated with the history of the sport. As a young kid I thought it was so cool to be playing a sport that was played by the Native Americans and, to this day, I still feel the same way. When I was 12 years old I stumbled upon a book entitled “Little Brother Of War” by Thomas Vennum. The book, which at the time was admittedly way over my head, was still a powerful resource for me and allowed me to understand more about the game I was becoming obsessed with. I would read small tidbits here and there about lacrosse, more particularly, the rituals.
There were several sections within the book that referenced rituals that would sometimes start three days before the game. Rituals that included stick decorating, dances, and sacred chants. One ceremony included dipping your stick in water on the way to the game or “going to water”. Often times players would paint their bodies with charcoal much like they would before battle. This is what initially got me into using eye black during lacrosse games.
I will never forget my first varsity game at Carthage. Coach V (Kirk Ventiquattro) was a big believer in rituals and pre game ceremony. We would do things a certain way before every game. It helped us focus and relax. One of the rituals was putting on the eye black. We would all get up silently in the locker room and form one single file line. One by one we would go through the line and each player would receive two stripes of eye black from Coach V. Well, the first time I went through the line I was so short (4’11” to be exact) that Coach had to bend way down to put the eye black on my face. When he started to swipe the black across my face I stepped up on my tippy toes and the eye black went down my cheeks—and that is when the double triangles were born.
Every game I ever played at Syracuse I wore my eye black in a double triangle pattern. I did this in honor of the Native Americans and my respect for lacrosse. I had no idea how fast it would catch on and that it would even lead to other sports.
When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to meet Thomas Vennum. I thanked him and explained how important his book was to my development as a person and a player. We talked for several hours and he shared even more detail about lacrosse than he included in his book. Not surprisingly, he was an incredibly interesting guy to talk with.
In 2007, he published and released a new book “Lacrosse Legends of The First Americans” which included an image of me and he referenced my eye black. What an amazing honor. A big thank you to Thomas Vennum for sharing his wisdom and research surrounding the games incredible heritage and traditions. I encourage all players, fans, parents and enthusiasts to take a deep dive into the history of lacrosse immediately–there’s absolutely nothing like it.