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All-American Sport
Photo: Jason Kissel
It is the only team sport played in the United States without European roots. It is also America’s first and oldest team sport – born and developed in the New World. Despite renewed interest in the sport over the last twenty years, you may never have heard of it.

The game is lacrosse.

Despite the French name, lacrosse is as American as potatoes and pumpkins. Native Americans were playing the game as early as 1400 – centuries before Abner Doubleday popularized baseball or James Naismith hung two peach baskets in a Massachusetts gymnasium for the first basketball game.

Modern lacrosse started in 1856, when the Montreal Lacrosse Club wrote the first set of rules for the game. In 1867, George Beers rewrote those rules, limiting the team to twelve members, defining the size of the field, and replacing the deerskin ball with a hard rubber ball better suited to catching and throwing accuracy. Current rules use ten-player teams, yet most of Beers’s rules are still used.

Lacrosse Growing Steadily

Basketball, baseball, and American football overshadowed lacrosse in the 20th century. Lacrosse is growing steadily in the 21st century. It requires a blend of strength, stamina, and thinking today’s athletes enjoy. Today, over a quarter of a million people play lacrosse. Eighty percent play at the youth (age 15 and under) or High School level. Growth averages 15% per year. Nearly 400 colleges have varsity lacrosse teams, and over 300 club teams on the college level. Some universities offer lacrosse scholarships.

Players like Claire Bordley exemplify modern lacrosse.

For Claire Bordley, lacrosse is a family tradition. Her father was taken by the game in college, becoming so interested that today he coaches lacrosse on the High School level in Maryland. Her brothers play lacrosse. Claire has been playing lacrosse since fourth grade. She is one of this nation’s best women’s lacrosse players. A member of the women’s national team in 2004, her team beat Austria to win the women’s world championship in the under-19 category. She is now attending the University of Virginia – on a lacrosse scholarship.

Claire, a three-sport varsity athlete, plays basketball, soccer, and lacrosse, yet lacrosse is her favorite. “Lacrosse is the sport that I am best at,” she explains. “Size is not that important. Speed and strength are. I could never be a great basketball player. I am too short. Lacrosse is a nice combination of movement and strategy, and I like that.”

Her coach, Kim Hutcherson, thinks highly of Claire. Claire is a hard worker, competitive in a positive way, and energetic. Her peers think highly of her. They elected her team captain of her basketball, soccer, and lacrosse teams. Claire has a life outside of sports, too. She enjoys time with her family, and took time out to work with Downes-syndrome children as a teacher’s assistant at Ivymount. From Claire’s perspective, a lot of that comes from playing lacrosse. “It made me a leader,” she says.

How about you?

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By Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Listen, May 2004. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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