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. Contestants played on a field from one to 15 miles in length, and games sometimes lasted 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 over 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.
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. Men's and women's lacrosse remain derivations of the same game today, but are played under different rules. Women's rules limit stick contact, prohibit body contact and, therefore, require little protective equipment. Men's lacrosse rules allow some degree of stick and body contact, although violence is neither condoned nor allowed.
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 1800's.
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 the early 1900s lacrosse became recognized as a "force to be reckoned with." It was during this time that the game was first played in Olympic competition, 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 lacrosse today.
Lacrosse was contested as a full medal sport at the 1904 and 1908 Olympics. In 1904, two Canadian teams challenged a local team from St. Louis, with the Shamrock Lacrosse Team of Winnipeg winning the gold medal. Lacrosse was also a demonstration sport at the Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1948.
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. To this day Jim Brown is the only athlete in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and the NFL Hall of Fame.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association eventually took over the directing of intercollegiate lacrosse, and the first NCAA Lacrosse championship was held in 1971. With the support of the NCAA, the sport has continued to grow as more and more youngsters reenact this modern version of the Indian tribal game.
The 2006 NCAA Lacrosse Championship took place in Philadelphia - A total of 144,688 fans rolled into Lincoln Financial Field over Memorial Day Weekend to set an attendance record and witness lacrosse's marquee weekend, the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships.