Variations of Stickball
Most Native American groups in the geographical region which
is currently the southeastern U.S. have played a version of Toli at some
point in their history. Many continue to play on a more or less limited
basis to this day. Below are the rules for some of the variations of Toli
that were, or are, common to the region. If I have played a particular
version, in addition to listing the rules, I will describe how a typical
point is played. This list will eventually include all known variations.
Cherokee stickball differs from the Choctaw game in several fundamental,
and important, ways. Specifically, in Cherokee stickball:
These four differences make for a dramatically different, though extremely
fun, game. Compared to Choctaw games, Cherokee stickball games that rely
a little more on force and a little less on finesse then the Choctaw game.
In Cherokee games you scoop the ball off the ground with your stick (which
is a little larger than Choctaw sticks), transfer the ball to your hands,
then run for the goal while the opposition tries to pry the it from your
grasp using any necessary means.
You can tackle anyone at any time.
Only one stick is used.
After you pick up the ball with your stick you can put it (the ball) in
To score you have to run through the goal (two stakes set into the ground
about 2 meters apart) then back onto the field.
Most Cherokee teams utilize a "man-to-man" style of play. Each
player is assigned to guard a specific member of the opposing team, and
since you may tackle anyone at anytime, "guarding" means tackling. A typical
point goes like this: The ball is tossed up. Everyone tackles an opposing
player. Players wrestle around until someone breaks free and gets the ball.
The person with the ball runs for the goal (and his or her life!) while
the opposing team attempts to break free of your teammates and stop you
before you score. If you manage to make it through the goal, LOOK OUT!
To score you need to make it back onto the field! And with the full force
of the opposing team coming at you, this is a good trick indeed!
There are currently no active Cherokee teams and the game is played
only once each year during an annual festival.
The Creek play two versions of stickball.
The first is a version of stickball that serves to demonstrate
that not all Native American sports rely on violence for fun. Creek games
are played around a single 5-10 meter pole which is topped with a brightly
painted animal skull and whose top 60 cm are delimited by a bright blue
ring of paint. To score you must hit the pole above the blue ring, or better
yet, hit the skull atop the pole. Games are played to four points.
To add to the social nature of the game a softer ball is used
and games are not played between communities, but between men and women
of the same community. The men use sticks that differ only in their lacing
pattern from Choctaw-style sticks while the women
use no sticks at all. Since the women don't have sticks they can pick up,
catch and throw the ball with their hands and are unencumbered by sticks
while running after the ball. These are serious advantages as is the rule
against tackling the women during play.
A typical point in Creek rules goes something like this: The ball
is tossed up and when it reaches the top of its arc everyone shouts. When
it comes down everyone scrambles for it. If a man comes out with it a woman
is there to pry his sticks apart causing him to drop it, or she knocks
him to the ground, knowing there will be no retaliation. If a woman gets
it she jumps free of the struggling mass and fakes a hand-off to another
team member or she can hide the ball on her person (there is a lot of this
sort of thing going on while the women have the ball). When the ball carrier
is free, female or male, they throw it at the top of the pole hoping to
The second version is a match game played between men in the late summer/early
fall after the final all-night dance of the ceremonial cycle. This Creek
match game is played in an open field, adjacent to the ceremonial
ground with two goal posts and men divided equally, forming squads representing
East and West. Men from other ceremonial towns are invited to play with
the host ceremonial ground. Style of play, rules and scoring are very
similar to Cherokee style games, however, Creek men handle the ball only with