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, virile men. To some Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as "The Creator's Game."
Games were played by as few as 100 and as many as 1,000 men and lasted two or three days, with play beginning at sunup and ending at sundown each day. Goals, consisting of rocks or trees, were generally 500 yards to a half-mile apart, but could be several miles apart. Some tribes used a single pole, tree, or rock for a goal. Other tribes used two goalposts through which the ball had to pass. Balls were made of wood, deerskin, baked clay, or stone. There were no sidelines, and players raced far and wide over the countryside.
The evolution of the Native American game into modern lacrosse began in 1636 when Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, drew attention to a Huron contest in what is now southeast Ontario, Canada. At that time, some type of lacrosse was played by tribes scattered throughout what is now southern Canada and all parts of the United States.
French pioneers began playing the game avidly in the early 1800's. Canadian dentist W. George Beers standardized the game in 1867 with the adoption of set field dimensions, limits to the number of players per team, and other basic rules.
New York University fielded the nations first college team in 1877. Philips Andover Academy (Mass.), Philips Exeter Academy (N.H.), and Lawrenceville School (N.J.) were the nation's first high school teams in 1882. There are currently over 600 college and 2,000 high school lacrosse teams coast to coast. Massachusetts currently has 6,000 youth lacrosse players between 2nd and 8th grade.
For the uninitiated, lacrosse is a combination of football (soccer), hockey, and basketball. It has been called the fastest game on two feet and is a grueling test of stamina. There are 10 positions on a team (one goalie, three attackmen, three midfielders, and three defensemen). The object: put a 5 oz. hard-rubber ball into your opponent's net with a long-handled stick with a triangular pocket at the end, while keeping your opponent from doing the same to you.
Like soccer, lacrosse is played on an open field with goals at both end; like hockey, the player carry sticks and can roam behind the net; like basketball, the offensive players set picks and run patterned offenses and fast breaks, while the defenses are man-to-man or zone; in fact, basketball inventor James Naismith was a lacrosse player in the late 1800s.
Glen (Pop) Warner, famed football coach, substituted lacrosse at the Carlisle, PA, Indian School for baseball because, "Lacrosse is a developer of health and strength. It is a game that spectators rave over once they understand it," he said. He undoubtedly had an ulterior motive. Lacrosse, a contact sport, helped prepare his grid warriors for the fall season.
In 1956, the game got a boost when a superior athlete from Syracuse University, Jim Brown, scored six goals for the North in the North-South Lacrosse game. Brown, one of the greatest running backs in the history of the National Football League, admitted he would rather play lacrosse than the grid sport. A unique combination of speed, skill, agility, grace, endurance, finesse, and historical significance, lacrosse may just be, according to basketball inventor James Naismith, "the best of all possible field games."
* History of Lacrosse partially adopted from the USLacrosse ® Parents' Guide