THE GAME OF LACROSSE
BRIEF HISTORY OF LACROSSE
Lacrosse is a game that is considered by many people to be the oldest sport in North America, the game’s origins date back to the 1400s. It was not until until the 1600s when a Jesuit priest named Jean de Brebeuf watched some native Americans playing lacrosse that it started to become popular.
In a report to his church superiors, he stated little about the actual way in which the game was played but seemed to be intrigued by the stick the Indians used.
Jean de Brebeuf compared the stick the Indians competed with, to the “crosier” carried by a bishop. Hence the name la crosse which later became simply “lacrosse.”
Indian lacrosse was a big game and quite often teams were made up of One Hundred to One Thousand young men on each team. The goals were normally five hundred yards to one-half mile apart. On occasion, the goals would be up to several miles apart.
Often a large rock or tree was considered the goal and a score was made by hitting the tree or rock with the ball. Some Indian tribes used goal posts 6 to 9 feet apart, and the ball had to pass between them for a score, much like today’s game.
Games could last from dawn to dusk and stretched over the course of 2 or 3 days. Lacrosse games were originally used to toughen up the young fighting men for war. There were even times when games were played between 2 tribes to settle their arguments or disputes.
It was not until the early 1800s that the French settlers started playing lacrosse on a regular basis. The French influence on the game tended to “civilize’ it a bit as well. Canadian dentist W. George Beers wrote a set of rules for the game in 1867 that set out the size of the playing field, limits to the number of players on each side, and other standard rules.
Little did the French settlers know that they would be credited with being the founders of lacrosse, along with the native Americans. New York University boasted the country’s 1st college team in 1877, and Philips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, Philips Andover Academy, Massachusetts and the Lawrenceville School, New Jersey were the nations’ 1st high school teams in 1882.
In the early 1900s lacrosse became recognized as a world class sport and was accepted as an Olympic sport and the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse League (USILL) was formed. In 1926, the USILL was replaced by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association, which is still the governing body of the sport of lacrosse today.
Lacrosse continued to grow in North America during the mid 1900s, and today the game is played by over five-hundred universities and colleges, as well as over fourteen-hundred high schools nationwide. Women’s lacrosse is also taking off. Over one-hundred universities and colleges, along with 150 high schools, currently have lacrosse programs.