Lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by all eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now Canada. The game has been modernized extensively by European immigrants to create its current form. Lacrosse is steeped in tradition, and though today’s participants use sticks of plastic and titanium rather than wood, the lacrosse stick symbolizes the historical significance of the game. Today’s players continue a long tradition of “Honoring the Game“.
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. It has been called the fastest game on two feet and is a grueling test of stamina.
A Brief History
With a history that spans centuries, lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America. Rooted in Native American religion, lacrosse was often played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick, and develop strong, virile men. To Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as “The Creator’s Game.”
Ironically, lacrosse also served as a preparation for war. Legend tells of as many as 1,000 players per side, from the same or different tribes, who took turns engaging in a violent contest. The games were played in open plains located between two villages, and the goals could range from 500 yards (460 m) to several miles apart.
Rules for these games were decided on the day before. Generally there was no out-of-bounds, and the ball could not be touched with the hands. Playing time was often from sun up until sun down and sometimes for days. Some tribes used a single pole, tree or rock for a goal, while other tribes had two goalposts through which the ball had to pass. Balls were made out of wood, deerskin, baked clay or stone.
The evolution of the Native American game into modern lacrosse began in 1636 when Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, documented a Huron contest in what is now southeast Ontario, Canada. At that time, some type of lacrosse was played by at least 48 Native American tribes scattered throughout what is now southern Canada and all parts of the United States. French pioneers began playing the game avidly in the 1800s. 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 nation’s first college team in 1877, and Philips Academy, Andover (Massachusetts), Philips Exeter Academy (New Hampshire) and the Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) were the nation’s first high school teams in 1882. There are 400 college and 1,200 high school men’s lacrosse teams from coast to coast.
The first women’s lacrosse game was played in 1890 at the St. Leonard’s School in Scotland. Although an attempt was made to start women’s lacrosse at Sweet Briar College in Virginia in 1914, it was not until 1926 that Miss Rosabelle Sinclair established the first women’s lacrosse team in the United States at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland.
Lacrosse became an Olympic sport for the 1904 and 1908 Summer Olympics, but was then dropped as an official sport. After 1908, lacrosse was a sport in the World Games.
Men’s and women’s lacrosse were played under virtually the same rules, with no protective equipment, until the mid-1930s. At that time, men’s lacrosse began evolving dramatically, while women’s lacrosse continued to remain true to the game’s original rules.
In the 1930s, an indoor version of the game, box lacrosse, was introduced in Canada. It quickly became the dominant form of the sport in Canada, in part due to the severe winter weather that limited outdoor play.