The History of Lacrosse

Modern lacrosse is a descendant of ‘stickball,’ originally played by Eastern Woodland and Plains Native American tribes. The original game would often include hundreds of native men (some estimates suggest up to 100,000 players would participate at once), divided into two sides. The original field could be anywhere from 500 yards to several miles long. The ball, made of wood or fur-stuffed deerskin, was thrown into the air as both teams scrambled to scoop it with their sticks. To score a point, players had to hit a stick pole with the ball. This style of play usually ended up in a huge mob fighting for the ball to make slow progress towards one end of the field or the other. Passing the ball was considered trickery, and those who dodged opponents were ridiculed as cowards. The sport was particularly valued by the Natives for toughening up young warriors, but it also served as an opportunity for gambling and religious rituals. French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf wrote of the game in 1636, becoming the first man to coin the term ‘lacrosse’ as the use of sticks reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (or staff).

Around 1740, many European colonists had begun taking up the game despite religious opposition due to the violence, betting, and pagan views it seemed to promote. Europeans were fascinated with the game from the start, but it was widely regarded that they would never be able to play with the same skill and passion as the Indians. In 1763, the Ojibwas tribe used a lacrosse game to capture Fort Mackinac. Natives invited the fort's British troops to watch a match and played gradually towards their gates before attacking the fort in the ensuing massacre. A Canadian dentist named George Beers modified and codified the game in 1856, when he founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. The MLC modified the rules of the newfound sport limiting the number of players, introducing the trademark rubber ball, and redesigning the lacrosse stick. Lacrosse became a popular sport among young men.

The first game played with the new set of rules and equipment was in 1857 at a college in Canada, where it would soon become the national sport. The sport spread throughout Canada, England, and the US rapidly after that. In 1876 Queen Victoria watched a game being played and remarked that “the game is very pretty to watch,” prompting great interest in women’s lacrosse. The game was banned in some areas however in 1900, because Choctaw Indians had modified their sticks by weighting them with
lead and using them as skull-crackers. Despite this publicity setback, lacrosse became an official Olympic sport in 1904 and 1908. Many high schools, colleges, and universities had adopted the game as a league sport in the early 20 th century, which paved the way for minor and professional
leagues such as the NLL.