Custom Wooden Lacrosse Stick Maker: Maxwell Kelsey
At Stringers Society, we have a saying “Real Good” that we use to describe high quality, simplicity, and effectiveness. Ron Swanson, a character from the show Parks & Rec., inspired this term. If you are a fan of that show you can relate; however, if you are not familiar with Parks & Rec. think of how Niagara Falls is technically just water and rocks but it truly is so much more. Now that you have that background let me introduce you to Maxwell Kelsey, a “Real Good” guy and a true artist who focuses on wooden lacrosse stick making.
I came across Maxwell from his Instagram @bemidji_maker and immediately looked at each picture he had. I scrolled through every last one. Each picture is black and white, perfectly displays his woodworking skills, and provided a look into a more meaningful time in Lacrosse history. His sticks all have his signature mark of a fish on the side that tells you it is his handiwork.
After looking at the handcrafted traditional Ojibwe Lacrosse sticks I decided that I needed to reach out to Maxwell. So naturally I DM’d him. Max replied with messages that were inspiring and motivating even though we were talking very casually. He had a tone to his messages that were very unconventional and extremely sincere. Not like the emojis and fake compliments you see all over Instagram. He agreed to have a conversation on the phone and seemed just as excited as I was.
We wasted no time with chit chat when Max and I talked. He was energetic and ready to talk lacrosse right when he answered and I knew I was in for a great time. Max got right into explaining his childhood experiences with lacrosse, and how being raised in Northern Minnesota taught him the right way to love lacrosse. He was raised on stories about the history of lacrosse being played for more than a score when lacrosse was played for The Creator.
I intended to have an interview with a stick maker, but instead, I had one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with anyone about lacrosse. Max and I talked about the current culture problems in lacrosse. We believe the community needs to change the culture around lacrosse for a better tomorrow, and what we both have gotten out of the game in our careers is peace of mind.
Max was inspired to start making and stringing traditional Ojibwe sticks by a coach and mentor of his. The coach had a huge influence on Max as an individual, and later as a maker. This influence allowed Max to connect, not only with the game of Lacrosse but also the culture of the game. Max had to move away from Bemidji and get a dull job to realize that Lacrosse was his passion and calling. His experience in the city with a “rat race” mentality left him drained, and Lacrosse became the cure. He began his journey by hand carving a canoe to hone his woodworking skills and accomplish a goal of his. Max then focused on making sticks to help the game of Lacrosse influence players the right way in his hometown.
Max’s attitude about Lacrosse is very old school. To Max, lacrosse is more of a creed than a hobby. He has gotten so much out of Lacrosse and become such a talented maker with this mentality. We both shared the opinion that the game truly is above us. Our view is that playing Lacrosse is more than simply participating in a game, it is an experience. What we have lost in modern Lacrosse is the appreciation of The Creator and knowledge of The Medicine Game. Max and I are not saying that you must participate in a Native religion or follow their customs. Our belief is one that the game is not about you, or us; but about a connection. A connection between all of us as players and people that come from The Creator.
It is about The Creator. Once a player can direct their focus on improving to be a better player in the eyes of The Creator, instead of trying to get a spot on Varsity or get some award, there is no pressure to succeed. There is only a devotion to the game and an appreciation of its history.
Max and I discussed how Modern Lacrosse has left the origins of the game in the background. While it is necessary for expansion and growth that the game modernizes and advances, this in no way means we should abandon the respect for the original game. The history of Lacrosse is arguably one of the richest in the sports world. If you are unfortunately uninformed on the incredible birth and life of this game I suggest getting a copy of American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War. Thomas Vennum explains the origins of lacrosse in a way that will want you to become a better player. I highly suggest investing in a copy, especially if you are a coach.
Players need to recognize the tradition within lacrosse to access the best part of the sport. Being connected with your stick will help you understand the game; a view Max and I shared. Lacrosse was developed as a way to make boys into men, and as far as I’m concerned we need to keep it that way. This game is a Medicine game, one that will heal you mentally and make you strong physically if you really give the game you’re all.
Max is the craftsman and artist that he is because of his mentality. He relies on traditional methods of stick making, using completely natural materials. Max avoids the use of power tools at all costs and says that they make weak sticks. Max splits his wood by hand. He needs to be in the correct mental state of connecting with the wood. This is how he gets pure and strong; true performing sticks. His beautiful sticks are both art and function, as he makes sure each one has the proper look and appropriate authenticity. Max makes competitive sticks, not decorative sticks.
One quote that stood out in our talk was when he said,
“I don’t make wall hangers. Someone may tell me ‘Don’t worry about the quality of this one I’m just putting it up in my office.’ But I’m gonna worry, and I’m gonna make them the best stick I can, that is going to be a reliable and can be played with.”
His devotion to making sticks goes far beyond business, profit, or desire. Max does this to give back to the game because the game has given so much to him.
As I explained before Max had a regular job in the city and was in a 9-5 style of living. Max saw what this style of life was doing to him and decided to change. He told me how he had some hard times during his time in the city, time that he needed to replace. The Medicine Game gave Max his purpose back when he returned to Bemidji to make sticks. Lacrosse is a game that when loved and really appreciated for all it has to offer can give you all you need in life. Max took advantage of that opportunity and has grown as a person because of that decision, learning more about himself and the game with each stick he makes.
Making sticks has given him that purpose in his life. In turn, Max has given his sticks to the community around him. Max has gotten to connect with the community around him and form lasting bonds with players from all over Minnesota. Teaching Lacrosse through the original form of the game and using traditional sticks caused it all.
Along with giving and selling sticks to the community, Max has also spent time openly teaching many how to properly and accurately make an Ojibwe stick in his workshop. He has always been very eager to share his knowledge with others. Max loves showing players the origin of Lacrosse, and finds that making sticks is a great way to connect with nature. Max has no problem letting people observe and assist in his natural way of splitting or carving sticks and his effort to remain environmentally conscious in his stick making has also been a teaching point of his.
He expressed that he would like to see Lacrosse revert back to only wooden sticks. As players, we need to reduce the environmental strain the game has on the Earth. The amount of plastic and rubber used in lacrosse really adds up over time when you think about how the game has grown. Max then warned about how “all wood lacrosse” could lead to deforestation, another worry he has for Mother Nature. Max settled on saying that in 10 years he would love to see the game incorporate more wood. More renewable or recyclable plastics, a smaller carbon footprint, and a more conscious understanding of the game’s history are some of his goals. I thoroughly agreed with all of his points. I credit Max with bringing the impact of Modern Lacrosse on the environment to my attention.
My conversation with Max was incredibly meaningful to me and the fact that we were able to converse so openly about the sport and our opinions on it made our almost hour long call seem like a small chat. He made sure that I knew I was always welcome to talk to him and I sincerely believed that if I called him on any given afternoon he would answer without question. He is just that type of guy. Max continues to put out great work that is always exciting to see. His handle is @bemidji_maker and he puts out pretty consistent content so you should be entertained by his Instagram without an issue. Contact Max through Instagram for more information on buying a wooden lacrosse stick or a bulk order.
Max is someone that you need to talk to in order to truly appreciate what Lacrosse has to offer. He will forever be known as a “Real Good” guy at Stringers Society. And a great friend too.