History of Lacrosse
With a history that spans centuries, lacrosse is the oldest sport native to the North American continent. Rooted in Native American religion, lacrosse was often played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick, build strength and virility and give thanks to the Creator. To many Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as “The Creator’s Game.”
Ironically, lacrosse also served as a preparation for war. Legends tell 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 fifteen miles in length, and games sometimes lasted for days. Some tribes used a single pole, tree or rock for a goal, while other tribes constructed 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, a variation of lacrosse was played by at least 48 Native American tribes scattered throughout the northeast, Great Lakes and southeast parts of what is now the United States and Canada. 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 men’s team in 1877. 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 926 that 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 two distinct forms 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, and the game requires protective equipment.
Men’s field lacrosse is sometimes perceived to be a violent game, but injury statistics prove otherwise. While serious injuries can and do occur in lacrosse, the game has evolved with an emphasis on safety, and the rate of injury is comparatively low when measured against other sports.