A nice article in the Daily Southtown, a newspaper based in subarban Chicago, explores the increasing popularity of lacrosse around the nation. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the country, in terms of participation at the K-12 level. It has long been popular among young people on the East Coast and is now spreading rapidly across the nation, though it has not yet achieved true mass popularity or awareness.
In addition, today's issue of USA Today includes a story on Gary Gait, one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, who is retiring at the end of this season. Gait has correctly been called the Michael Jordan of lacrosse, for his competitiveness, his amazing leaping ability, and the great and innovative scoring touch brought to the game.
In a college game for Syracuse, Gait leaped forward from behind the goal (which is surrounded by a circle that offensive players may not enter), extended his stick, and shot the ball into the net. No one had ever done it before. It was like the sport's first slam dunk. (The move is now illegal.) In addition, Gait and his twin brother, Paul, spiced up the sport with no-look passes, airborne between-the-legs shots, and other such impressively athletic moves.
Gait will become a coach in the professional outdoor lacrosse leage this summer.
The author of the Southtown article describes lacrosse as follows: "this is a sport that essentially combines the toughness of hockey and soccer, and revolves around a rock-hard rubber ball that blasts like a closed fist from a shooter's stick to the back of the net."
I would say that lacrosse is the roughest outdoor team sport with the probably exception of football alone. (Rugby is about is rough as lacrosse.) Lacrosse is great fun to watch. The action is continuous, the players hit hard and often, and the scoring happens much more often than in soccer, hockey, baseball, and football. When played by young ladies, the sport is not nearly so rough as the boys' game, but the finesse part can be even more interesting.
It is important to recognize that the ball does not naturally remain in a player's crosse, the net part of the stick; one has to "cradle" the ball in the crosse (twist the stick rapidly to create centrifugal force) in order to run with the ball. Opposing players are allowed to strike the stick of the player carrying the ball, in order to dislodge it. These efforts often miss, which means that the player carrying the ball is often hit repeatedly about the head and shoulders with other players' sticks. Hence, a player dodging through traffic to score a goal is doing something very difficult indeed.
Lacrosse is my second-favorite sport, close behind football, which is the greatest sport ever invented, in my view.
Lacrosse was recently shown on network televsion for the very first time, as ABC telecast the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game. (The NLL is the major professional indoor lacrosse league. Major League Lacrosse is the major professional outdoor league. Indoor is a slightly faster game with lots of hitting and a bit more scoring, but the outdoor game has a real beauty to it in the way the offensive and defensive strategies play out.)
A rapidly increasing number of lacrosse games is being shown on cable stations as well. MLL games are shown on ESPN during the warm months, and NLL games are shown on several Fox Sports Net channels, Comcast Sports Net channels, and the like, during winter and early spring. Games are now being shown in the New York City area (on Fox Sports NY) and other major markets. Denver's Altitude Sports Network is very strong on lacrosse coverage. In addition, numerous college games are shown on College Sports Television, ESPNU, the BYU network, and many local sports cable stations.
For more information on this great and growing sport, visit the U.S. Lacrosse site at http://www.uslacrosse.org/.