The game you see on the field today is vastly different from when it was originally played. What has now become an interscholastic, professional, and international sport was once a way for tribal warriors to train, have fun, and practice their religion.
Can you imagine playing a lacrosse game on a field several hundred yards and even miles apart? Original lacrosse matches were huge events, sometimes made up of teams with anywhere between 100 and 100,000 players participating at one time. The rules were kept simple and the boundaries were almost non-existent. Imagine no out of bounds!
As with any sport, the game evolved over time. The wooden balls transitioned into deer skin balls and the sticks became more advanced as the years went on. Players would often paint their bodies and faces instead of using the modern uniforms we see today. Of course, like almost all sporting competitions, betting on the outcome was extremely popular.
Missionaries working in the St. Lawrence Valley, where lacrosse originated, were the first Europeans to see the game of lacrosse. The game began to spread across the Northeast, Midwest, and eventually into Canada. It wasn’t until 1856 when the game started to take shape with the Montreal Lacrosse Club and the streamlining of the rules and strategies to play the game.
By 1860 lacrosse was the national sport of Canada. Not hockey! Lacrosse was slowly becoming more and more popular, even making its way back to England in the late 1800’s. Canada even started to use the game of lacrosse to help promote the country as a great place to move to and live. On a lacrosse tour in Scotland, Iroquois natives passed out literature showcasing all that Canada had to offer.
When the 1900’s rolled around, lacrosse was formally introduced as an Olympic sport. It was short lived though, as it was introduced in 1904 and played for the last time in 1908. Despite the short stint in the Olympics, the impact on athletes around the world had been made as the game grew in several countries over the years.
Fast forward to today, after some necessary rule changes and modifications, lacrosse is one of the fastest growing youth sports in the United States and around the world. Major universities have men’s and women’s teams and there are even professional leagues that draw crowds of all ages. Lacrosse over the past decade has seen a major influx of athletes looking for something that keeps them engaged, has a level of physicality, and of course high scoring. Lacrosse has been able to check off those boxes for boys and girls of all ages and abilities.
With the emergence of club teams playing in leagues and tournaments around the country, the game of lacrosse has come a long way since the 1600’s. As we are all celebrating Thanksgiving this week with our families, for us lacrosse players, let’s be thankful for those original Native Americans who introduced us to this great game!