Stickball has been a part of Choctaw life for hundreds of years. Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa. Each team tries to advance the ball down the field to the other team's goalpost using only their sticks, never touching or throwing the ball with their hands. Points are scored when a player hits the opposing team's goalpost with the ball.
The earliest historical reference to Choctaw stickball was a Jesuit priest's account of a stickball game around 1729. During that period, the Choctaws lived in towns and villages scattered across the area that is now southern Mississippi. When disputes arose between these communities, stickball provided a peaceful way to settle the issue. These games were hard-fought contests that could involve as few as twenty or as many as 300 players.
Mississippi Choctaws continue to play stickball. When the first Choctaw Fair was held in 1949, stickball was an important event, but only a handful of teams took part. Today, anywhere from 12 to 14 teams meet during the fair in a single elimination tournament. The championship game closes out the Fair, with the fans filling the Choctaw Central High School football stadium to cheer on their teams.
Stickball, traditionally a sport among men, has become a popular sport for women. For several years now, Choctaw women too, have their own tournament consisting of 10 to 12 teams vying for the title of Women’s Stickball Champion. Just as exciting as the men’s tournament, the women’s games are a sight to see.
Modern stickball has a few more rules than its historical predecessor. The rules are printed and distributed to all players before the fair begins. The game is played in four (4) fifteen-minute quarters. Players still score points by hitting a post set up in the middle of the football goal post. They still advance the ball without touching it, using only their kabocca. The appearance of the players is different, too. For most of the 20th century, players wore handmade uniforms consisting of pants hemmed just below the knee and open-necked, pullover shirts. These were made in the community colors and decorated with the diamond patterns found on traditional clothing. In the late 1970's, those uniforms gave way to gym shorts and team t-shirts. Today, teams wear team t-shirts representing their team color and many players now wear coordinating headbands with the diamond design in their team colors.
Stickball Sticks and Balls
The resurgence of interest in stickball keeps several Choctaw craftsmen busy, since the kabocca and towa used by the players have to be handmade. The kabocca are carved from hickory and bent at one end to shape the cup of the stick. Leather or deer hide thongs are tied to make the pocket in which the players catch and carry the ball. The towa is made from cloth tightly wrapped around a small stone or piece of wood. Once it is wrapped to the desired size, the maker weaves a leather thong or deer hide over the cloth.