Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Last week Duane Jacobs, the president of the Six Nations Chiefs, the famed Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) franchise, granted permission to issue a press release that stated the club would compete in its league during the 2021 campaign.
But the release also said indications suggested 2021 could be the final season for the Chiefs, who have been in existence since 1993.
“It’s a difficult decision to make,” Jacobs said in last Wednesday’s announcement. “It’s one I don’t want to have happen. Our organization feels Major Series Lacrosse is not feasible on Six Nations. Our ownership group is also concerned over the lack of fan support.”
The announcement rocked the Canadian lacrosse community. Many voiced their desire to have the Chiefs, who have captured the national Mann Cup championship six times, continue playing well into the future.
A few days after the release though, Jacobs said he was surprised that many interpreted the release to read the Chiefs would be folding after the 2021 season.
“I’ve been around the game a long time and I’ve seen many teams come and go,” said Jacobs, a former professional player himself. “We’re hoping that’s not the case here and we’ll be around for many more years. As an organization we have been around for almost 30 years. We want to continue with our organization for the future.”
But that future, said Jacobs, depends on plenty of changes being made now.
“We’re not getting as much support as we feel we should be getting,” he said.
Besides drawing more fans, Jacobs said the Chiefs’ brass is also seeking more recognition from the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) and the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA).
“We need more inclusion at the OLA and CLA levels,” he said. “I don’t see one Indigenous person on the OLA board. We need to have a voice at that level. And there needs to be more cultural awareness training at their annual and semi-annual meetings.”
The OLA’s AGM was held virtually earlier this month. It should be noted no Indigenous person ran for a position on the board of directors.
As for the CLA, Findley Wilson does serve as its Indigenous director. Also, Brian Phillips is the president of the First Nations Lacrosse Association, one of the CLA’s member associations that has its squads vie for some national championships.
The Chiefs are members of the Ontario-based MSL, which features six franchises. The others are Brampton Excelsiors, Brooklin Lacrosse Club, Cobourg Kodiaks, Oakville Rock and Peterborough Lakers.
The MSL season typically runs from June through August. Squads are stacked with professional players who also toil in the National Lacrosse League (NLL), which usually has a season beginning in late November or early December and continuing until May.
While NLL contests attract several thousand fans, some teams in the MSL, including the Chiefs who traditionally feature a roster with many of the top pros in the world, struggle to draw a couple of hundred fans to their home outings.
Jacobs said one of the reasons the Chiefs have difficulties attracting more support at home is because their community has another Senior team and three junior franchises.
The Six Nations Rivermen participate in the Ontario Series Lacrosse and captured the 2019 national Senior B title, the Presidents Cup.
Because of the pandemic there were no Canadian lacrosse tournaments at any level in 2020.
Six Nations also has the Six Nations Arrows competing at the Junior A level, the Six Nations Rebels in the Junior B grouping and the Six Nations Stealth, a Junior C squad.
“We probably have one of, if not the lowest attendance (of the five Six Nations teams),” Jacobs said, adding attendance figures are disappointing considering the elite talent the team assembles each year. Plus, the Chiefs already have quite an admission deal with adult tickets costing $10 each.
Jacobs is at a loss as to what it will take to entice more fans to the Chiefs’ home matches.
“It’s a question I don’t have an answer for,” he said. “We’re going to try to figure something out to get them in here.”
MSL commissioner Doug Luey is among those hoping the Chiefs will be around for the long haul.
“They’re a marquee team in our league,” he said. “I wish them nothing but the best.”
While the Chiefs are not drawing as well as they would like to at home, they are a big attraction at games away, drawing larger than average crowds for the opposing squads.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.