May 10, 2007
Lacrosse can be tough to describe. Once you start talking about a sport that features players chasing each other with sticks in an open field, your listener might grow confused.
But with a little effort, the game starts making sense. Lacrosse features an aura completely different from America’s big three — football, basketball and baseball — but that’s part of the appeal. This game with so much past is catching on. It is, strangely enough, the game of tomorrow. North America’s oldest sport has spent centuries in the shadows. It was first the domain of Native Americans. In 1636, a Jesuit missionary named Jean de Brefeuf, serving as one of our continent’s first sports writers, documented a Huron game in Ontario, Canada. In the late 19th century, lacrosse was adopted by the oh-sosnobby crowd that inhabits East Coast prep schools. It has long been beloved by students at Exeter and Andover and other schools that educate the Bush family and other members of America’s elite. But the rich folks can’t have this game for their own. It’s not fair. Lacrosse boasts too much zany, spontaneous spirit to remain a secret. According to U.S. Lacrosse, the game is the fastest growing team sport in the United States. On Wednesday night, Kate Fitzgerald led her Colorado College teammates to a 15-9 victory over Claremont Colleges in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. A couple hundred fans watched a thrilling game — and a gorgeous sunset — at CC’s venerable Washburn Field. After the victory, Fitzgerald was laughing. She admits she still meets women and men who never have heard of lacrosse. “It’s an up-and-coming sport with sticks and a ball,” she tells those who have never heard of it. “It’s fast-paced with passing. It’s really fun.” She’s right. Lacrosse combines the frantic pace of basketball with the strategic complexity of hockey. The men’s game features mindaltering checking, but the rough stuff is illegal in the women’s version. Men play in helmets and pads. Women, without pads and helmet, look ready for a track meet. Part of lacrosse’s problem in attracting attention is it doesn’t translate well to television. If cameras zoom in on the action, the ball often zips out of the picture. If the camera pulls away to catch the big picture, you lose sense of the game’s grit and rhythm. When watching in person, though, the game begins to make sense. Wednesday’s game featured crisp, simple drama. CC kept pushing to leads and Claremont kept fighting back. But in the final minutes, CC finally vanquished its foe. Fitzgerald finished with six goals, battling through defenders and leading her team to the next round of the playoffs. That was the easy part. Now, she faces the daunting task of explaining her sport to the multitudes who still don’t quite understand. Columnist David Ramsey can be reached at 476-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org