Historical Facts About Lacrosse

Where the Game Began and the People Who Started It

Lacrosse was considered the most widely played team sport of its time in North America with regional variations played with either one or two sticks of differing structures. In all its forms the Native version of lacrosse was an athletic contest of great skill, pride, and spiritual significance.

It was so popular in fact that many sports historians considered it the original national pastime. The indigenous people believe the game was given to them by the Creator for his enjoyment. It was considered more than just a game; and Native people played to help in the healing process, to settle disputes, to help their spiritual development, and to prepare for war. The traditional face-off (toss-up) included the teams yelling the name of their creator, with sticks raised to the sky.

The traditional ball game played by Minnesota’s Ojibway and Dakota communities ended in the last 40 to 90 years due to the extensive diffusion of traditional culture and the influence of government and religious assimilation policies, plus gambling and harsh play. However, stickball, the two wooden stick version of the game played by the Southern tribes like the Seminole and Cherokee, is still played at fairs and pow-wows. In Upstate New York and Ontario, Canada, the Iroquois have also never stopped playing and are credited with introducing the game to European settlers over 300 years ago. The Iroquois have also embraced the modern game played with plastic sticks and helmets.

Today the Iroquois have a highly competitive men’s team and a 19U national team. The game of lacrosse is still a tremendous source of pride for the Iroquois community. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, efforts are being made to reintroduce the sport to kids at various reservations.

In the summer of 1763, the Sauk and Ojibway needed a plan to recapture Fort Michilimackinac (upper Michigan) from the British. The British were at war with the French and controlled all the trading in the Upper Midwest. Since the Ojibway and Sauk preferred the French’s favorable trading practices over those of the English, they devised a unique plan, using a lacrosse game to distract the British soldiers so they could take over the fort. The date for the game was set to coincide with the English kings birthday when the soldiers would be free from their duties and ready to be entertained by the public wagering on the game. On the day of the game, the plan had the women of both tribes line up along the wall in front of the main gate with tomahawks, knives, and war clubs under their shawls and blankets. As the game moved closer to the main gate, the ball was thrown into the fort.

The players from both teams dropped their sticks, grabbing the weapons from the women, and stormed the unsuspecting British through the open main gate, capturing the fort and all the goods, and that’s how lacrosse defeated the British!
There are four types of lacrosse being played today. Minilacrosse (or soft lacrosse) is played by beginners and primarily taught in gym class. It is an inexpensive modified version of the game that stresses the basic skills without the body contact and stick checking. Box or indoor lacrosse invented in Canada is played 6 on 6 in cement or turf-covered hockey rinks in the summer with many of the same rules and equipment of hockey. It stresses the speed and skills of both hockey and basketball with the unique contact, physical demands, and skills of lacrosse (no skating required). Men’s field lacrosse played 10 on 10 on football-size field in the spring is closer to the traditional Native game than box. It features the same lacrosse skills with more wide-open action, set positions, and strategy. It is an NCAA Division I, II, and III and National Federated High School sanctioned sport with programs throughout the United States.Women’s field lacrosse played 12 on 12 has no boundaries or the body checking of the men’s game. It is a highly skilled and fast-paced game that actually retains more of the traditional Native game than any other version of the sport. It is an NCAA Division I and III and National Federated High School sanctioned sport with programs throughout the United States.

Today’s game is no longer just popular in the eastern United States and Canada; it is growing in popularity from coast to coast nationally and internationally. Australia, England, Ireland, the Iroquois Nation, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Wales, and South Korea all have national teams.

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