The sport of lacrosse is a combination of basketball, soccer and hockey. Anyone can play lacrosse--the big or the small. The game requires and rewards coordination and agility, not brawn. Quickness and speed are two highly prized qualities in lacrosse. An exhilarating sport, lacrosse is fast-paced and full of action. Long sprints up and down the field with abrupt starts and stops, precision passes and dodges are routine in men's and women's lacrosse. Lacrosse is played with a stick, the crosse, which must be mastered by the player to throw, catch and scoop the ball.
Today's lacrosse enthusiasts play this primarily amateur sport for love rather than financial reward. Two professional leagues (National Lacrosse League, indoor; Major League Lacrosse, outdoor) dot the North American landscape. But long after the more high profile collegiate athletes have used their skills to enter the professional sports arena, the finest men and women lacrosse players are using their talents in the dynamic amateur competition known as 'club' lacrosse.
Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing team sports in the United States. Youth membership (ages 15 and under) in US Lacrosse has doubled since 1999 to over 60,000. The National Federation of State High School Associations reported that in 2001 better than 74,000 students played high lacrosse. With club teams, private schools, and states not yet having sanctioned lacrosse, high school-aged participation is actually much higher. Varsity collegiate participation has grown by one-third since 1995, and collegiate and post-collegiate club teams field thousands of players as well.
Once a minor pastime played in the shadows of baseball stadiums in the Northeast of the United States, lacrosse has become a national sport with more than 250,000 active players.
History of the Game
With a history that spans centuries, lacrosse is the oldest continuously played sport in North America. The sport is rooted in Native American religion and was often played to resolve disputes, heal the sick, and develop strong men. To Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as "The Creator’s Game".
Initially, lacrosse served as a substitute for war. Stories tell of as many as a thousand players per side, from the same of different tribes, who took turns engaging in a violent contest called baaga’adowe. Tribe members played on a field as much as 15 miles long and games sometimes lasted for days. Some tribes used a single pole, tree, or rock for a goal, while others used two goal posts through which the ball had to pass. The balls were made out of wood, deerskin, baked clay, or stone.
Although played throughout North America, the strongest, most consistent style of the game (with a large, single wooden racket) evolved in the eastern region of the continent, from Canada in the north to the Cherokee tribes of the south. When French missionaries to North America first witnessed the game at the turn of the 15th Century, the curved, netted stick reminded them of a ‘crosier’, the shepherd’s cross-like staff carried by clergymen. Hence the sport was named ‘la jeune de la crosier’: the game of the hooked sticks. Eventually the name evolved into ‘lacrosse’. From these early beginnings, lacrosse has developed into the ‘fastest game on two feet’.
In the mid-1700s the French settlers began playing the game with the Indians. They redefined aspects of the sport with set field dimensions, limited members per team, and some crude ‘rules’.
In 1867, the Upper Canada College in Toronto became the first college to play a lacrosse game, losing to the Toronto Club – 3-1. By the mid-1870’s the Ivy League of New England adopted the sport. In 1883, Philips Andover Academy of Massachusetts and Phillips Exeter Academy of New Hampshire became the first two prep schools to take up the game.
As an amateur mainstay of East Coast colleges and prep schools, lacrosse maintained a regional reputation until after World War II. The GI Bill exposed athletes from around the country to lacrosse, and the baby boom and increased mobility of the 1950’s accelerated the expansion of players & began the road to national exposure.
Current men’s lacrosse teams consist of ten players: a goalie, three defensemen, three mid-fielders, and three attackmen. The object of the game is to put a five-oz. hard-rubber ball (about the size of a baseball) into the opponent’s goal using a long-handled stick with a triangular pocket at the end.
A regulation men’s lacrosse field is 110 yards long & 60 yards wide, with the goals 80 yards apart. This allows for a lot of play ‘behind the net’. Like in hockey, substitutions can be made ‘on the fly’, and penalized players must sit out while their team plays ‘man-down’. Lacrosse also combines the play-making strategy of basketball, the stamina of soccer, the hand-eye coordination of baseball, and (in the boys game) the physical contact of rugby or football.
Women’s rules limit stick contact, prohibit body contact and therefore, require much less protective equipment. While there are significant differences in the rules, penalties, and field configuration, the women’s game retains the characteristics of a fast-paced game of skill and stamina.