As the army approaches the valley, the leader of the invaded nation finishes blessing his finest and most loyal warriors. They charge at their opponents with fierce anticipation of the struggle. War brings out the most primal of man’s instincts and requires the paramount of physical conditioning. Due to its immensely demanding nature and expense, preparation is a tremendous task, both 400 years ago and today. However, the native nations of America formulated a solution to this dilemma with a simple, yet terribly effective game. It was the art of war, but the battle is lacrosse.
The game of lacrosse proved a substantial solution to the difficulties of preparing for war. It involved two teams of competing tribes, each with a large number of players - sometimes as many as a thousand - playing on an area several miles in length. The ball consisted of a small piece of animal hide filled with the crushed bones of fallen soldiers. The players would carry this ball in a small basket at the end of a forked stick with the intention of scoring by throwing the ball at a goal, usually a large rock or tree.
While simple, the game was absolutely vicious. A competition without rules, the warriors would obtain the ball by any means necessary, often killing opponents. Their sticks (called crosses by French observers in the seventeenth century) not only served as a tool for scoring, but also as a club to ensure the demise of their adversaries. The event not only prepared the players for war but showcased the tough and eliminated the weak. These games never ended, they simply absorbed new contenders when the time came. Lacrosse’s success in regards to its intention caused it to become the most popular game of the native people and lasted for centuries.
Though the modern version’s intent is recreational, the fascinating game of lacrosse is being played by thousands across the world. The sport has evolved from training for war to a popular pastime. While its principle is unchanged, today’s game has rules; two teams of 10 play on a field 100 yards in length. Each team has three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and a goalie. It is the attackmens’ job to score on the six-by-six-foot net surrounded by a circular crease, guarded by the goalie, who is protected by the defensemen. The three midfielders play both offense and defense and run from one side of the field to the other when necessary.
Unlike the brutal original version of lacrosse, today’s game is relatively civilized, though still physically straining. Players are allowed to check their opponents either with their body or stick in order to get the ball. Several penalties like slashing, for a dangerous check, and unsportsmanlike conduct have been established to keep the game orderly. Protective padding and helmets are also worn to minimize injury.
The sport of lacrosse is one of great mental and physical strength. Its combination of speed, strength, time, space, and vision has tested individuals for centuries and created a captivating activity for years to come.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.