When you start becoming more invested in the sport of lacrosse, you naturally begin learning all about its rich history. Many people know that Native Americans originated the game, and it plays a major role in tribes scattered across the United States and Canada. Continue reading for a brief history of lacrosse and learn how it’s evolved into the sport of the future.
The story of lacrosse begins a thousand years ago with the Haudenosaunee (consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations), otherwise known as the Iroquois. The game played centuries ago is distinctly different from what we know as lacrosse today. However, the element that has remained is the use of the stick.
Back then, it was more common for players to use a stick made from surrounding trees. Lacrosse sticks are so closely tied to the Haudenosaunee that people place one in baby carriages at the start of one’s life. These are then buried with them once the person has passed.
The game in the early days was also not as organized. Instead, games took place over days, and people played on massive pieces of land that easily exceeded 110 yards. The game also featured hundreds or thousands of players with the simple rule of not being able to touch the wooden ball with the hand.
Some tribes saw lacrosse as a means to train for war and strengthen warriors while others did it to honor the creator.
While the sport of lacrosse comes from the natives, the name itself comes from across the pond. The reasoning is because French missionaries thought the sticks had a resemblance to a bishops’ crozier when they discovered natives playing the game in the 1630s.
With other nations picking up lacrosse, the game slowly started to become what it resembles today. The first game that took place outside of the reservations occurred in Montreal, which laid the groundwork for lacrosse to become the national sport of Canada a couple of centuries later.
Much of what lacrosse looks like today started with Dr. William George Beers, a Canadian dentist who founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1856. Years later, the sport started to evolve. It now features much fewer players, and the ball is now made of rubber. The game also features a new type of stick.
The Women’s Game
Up until this point, men played lacrosse to the exclusion of women, but that changed after an 1884 contest between the Canghuwaya and Montreal Lacrosse Club. The game enthralled Louisa Lumsden, the first headmistress of her school, to the point where she introduced the game to the institution, St. Leonards in Scotland.
The first game was later held in 1908 at St. Leonards and consisted of eight players. The game has since evolved, but remains very close to the spirit of how the Native Americans played the game centuries ago.
The Birth of College Programs
Many still see college lacrosse as the pinnacle of the game, given the rich and long history of programs at institutions like Johns Hopkins and Syracuse. However, the first collegiate game took place between Manhattan College and New York University in 1877.
Off the heels of the civil rights movement and Jim Brown cementing himself as one of the greatest players of all time at Syracuse University, the sport began finding a place in new communities. Notably, Morgan State College was the first HBCU to have an NCAA lacrosse program.
Today’s landscape of college lacrosse has grown all over the country. Traditionally, many of the programs took place on the east coast, but the game has now found its way west to universities in Denver, Michigan, and Utah.
The game eventually grew to the point where going pro became an option for highly skilled and successful players. The first professional field lacrosse league was Major League Lacrosse, and it kicked off its first season in 2001.
In 2019, former MLL player Paul Rabil, who was also the first to earn a million as a pro, launched the Premier Lacrosse League with his brother, Mike. The PLL adopted the tour-based model also used with the short-lived LXM Pro Tour. In 2020, the MLL merged with the PLL. Today, the PLL has eight region-less teams and is currently in its third season.
Road to the 2028 Olympics
Lacrosse is international, and it was an Olympic sport all the way back in 1904. It was later dropped in 1908, but played as an exhibition sport in front of 80,000 people at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
In recent years, lacrosse has made major strides in getting back into the Olympics. The Federation of International Lacrosse has earned full recognition from the Olympic committee under the new name, World Lacrosse.
This comes as a new style of play was recently created. It involves a six-on-six game with players playing offense and defense on a shorter field for eight-minute quarters. It features other differences compared to the traditional outdoor field discipline. World Lacrosse Sixes will look to increase the growth of the game at the international level by making it more accessible and competitive.
Growth of the Game
People know lacrosse as one the fastest growing sports in the US in recent years. The sport has seen an increase in professional leagues, sold-out NFL stadiums, new college programs, and more importantly, higher participation at the youth level.
Honor the Past
Not many sports have a history as old as lacrosse, and players and spectators alike can still feel that history today. We can also feel just how far the sport has come. For instance, the Natives who first played the sport played with wooden sticks. Today, people play the game with sticks made from metals and plastics.
After learning a brief history of lacrosse, you may be looking for something used in the past for your games. Lacrosse Fanatic can help. We have lacrosse shafts on sale made from renewable, biodegradable flax.