January 28, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
played the game to prepare for war, resolve conflicts and,
sometimes, simply for recreation.
Until the mid-1930s, the rules of lacrosse were the same for men
and women, and no player wore protective equipment. Today,
men's lacrosse requires players to wear more protective gear
than does women's lacrosse.
Armed with a crosse (which looks much like a hockey stick with
a small net at the top), players both throw and catch the ball,
trying to shoot it into their team's goal.
With less than nine months until lacrosse debuts at Centre College, excitement on campus continues to build. Yet while the Centre community is eager to watch "the fastest sport on two feet," many folks are unfamiliar with how the game is played.
A little lesson in lacrosse, therefore, will benefit all.
The fast-paced sport traces its roots back to Native American religion. Prior to and during the 17th century, the game was played to transform players into robust men prepared for war, as well as to resolve conflicts and, sometimes, simply for recreation.
"Legend tells of games with more than 100 players from different tribes taking turns to play," Centre men's head coach Bert Severns says. "It could be played on a field many miles in length and width, and sometimes the game could last for days."
It wasn't until 1856 that Canadian William George Beers codified the game and made it more closely resemble the sport that is played today, adds Julie Beer, head women's lacrosse coach at Centre.
In 1877, New York University became the first college to offer men's lacrosse. Five years later, three high school teams in the northeast United States began competitive play. The first women's lacrosse team in the country was established in 1926 at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore.
The sport is much like a medley of soccer, basketball and hockey. Armed with a three- to four-feet long crosse (a stick looking much like a hockey stick with a small net at the top), players both throw and catch a ball, trying to hurl it into their team's goal.
Each team is allowed 10 players on the field at one time. As in soccer, only the goalkeepers are permitted to touch the ball with their hands. All others must use the crosse to catch, carry and throw the ball.
Until the mid-1930s, the rules of lacrosse were the same for men and women, and no player wore protective equipment. Today, men's and women's lacrosse are governed by different rules.
"In the women's game, there is no stick-to-body contact," Beer says. "But if the body position is correct, a defender's stick can hit the ball carrier's stick in a movement called 'checking.'"
Men have more freedom in terms of body checking.
"It's legal as long as an opponent is within five yards of the location of the ball," Severns says. "Though you can't hit an opponent from behind with a body check—or a stick! When body checking an opponent, players must have two hands on the stick, and they must hit with the shoulder. The contact must occur between the opponent’s shoulders and waist."
And though the only protective equipment women wear are wired goggles and mouth guards, men wear helmets (equipped with a face mask, chin pad and a cupped chin strap), mouthguards and full sets of upper-body pads.
According to U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body, lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing team sports in the country.
"Youth participation in the sport has grown more than 500 percent since 1999 to nearly 250,000," the nonprofit says. "No sport has grown faster at the high school level over the last 10 years, and there are now an estimated 200,000 high school players."
U.S. Lacrosse also says that the game is the "fastest-growing sport over the last six years at the NCAA level, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are more than 500 college club programs, including nearly 200 women's teams that compete at the U.S. Lacrosse Intercollegiate Associates level."
Because in lacrosse "there's something for everyone," Beer believes, the national interest is growing quickly.
Severns agrees, saying that "over the past few years, men’s lacrosse has lead the NCAA in attendance due to the Final Four format that brings the Division I, Division II and Division III playoffs to one site every year on Memorial Day weekend. Last year’s Division I championship in Boston attracted more than 45,000 people. Men’s lacrosse is a sport that has fans from all over the country."
Beer adds that "there's enough strategy needed that the sport really puts your mind to work, it requires tremendous athleticism and it's a rapid game—it's known as the fastest sport on two feet."
During play, "the ball movement is constantly back and forth across the field, and games tend to be pretty high scoring for a field sport," she continues. "The game is full of dramatic action, with long, controlled down-the-field passes that can be parallel to Hail Marys in football, amazing catching and trick shots, and, of course, interceptions."
The basic rules of the game are in several ways similar to soccer. The object is to shoot the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and the team scoring the most goals wins. Collegiate games are 60 minutes long with 15-minute quarters. Each team is given a two-minute break between the first and second quarters and also between the third and fourth quarters. Halftime is 10 minutes long. Unlike in soccer, scores in lacrosse tend to be high, and it is not uncommon for a team to score between 10 and 18 goals in a game. (To learn more about the rules of lacrosse, click here.)
The Centre College community will have the opportunity to watch the dramatic sport this fall, and Beer and Severns—as well as the other members of the Centre community—are eager for Centre's first season of intercollegiate lacrosse play.
"Centre is well on its way to developing a strong program," Beer says. "A strong program develops out of a tradition of excellence and discipline, and I look forward to getting that rolling."
Severns adds that "we at Centre will have a tremendous respect for the game of lacrosse. Although it's a new sport for this campus, it's steeped in a great tradition brought forth to us from Native Americans. Not only is the game the 'fastest sport on two feet,' but it's one of the greatest games young people can play today."