MORGANTOWN — In 1763, as the Seven Years War raged on, the Ojibwa tribe invited British soldiers to witness a ceremonial Native American sport at Fort Michilimackinac, in present-day Michigan.
The Brits became enamored as hundreds of players on each side swarmed the field, the only semblance of rules or objectives to use a crooked stick to launch a ball into the opponent’s goal. The Brits were enthralled with the fast-paced action and physical contact of the sport, and began to make wagers and cheer for their favorites.
Unfortunately for the soldiers, the game was a diversion, a ploy to open susceptibility to a sneak attack that would capture the fort for the Native Americans. The soldiers wouldn’t catch on until the massacre was under way.
Fast forward 250-plus years, and the sport that once entertained thousands of Native Americans and colonial imperialists alike has a new name, strict rules, and has become America’s fastest growing sport: Lacrosse.
From the open fields of the Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indian tribes, the sport caught fire first in mid-1800s Canada, as incoming European settlers caught wind of the intense and competitive games contested by the natives.
After numerous exhibitions and pick-up games finally created enough interest, dentist William George Beers codified the game and founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. The sport soon exploded, becoming the national sport of Canada. Soon enough, it even caught the eye of Queen Victoria, who endorsed the sport herself. “The game is very pretty to watch,” she said in 1876.
The game soon crossed the border into New York and the northeastern United States, where it first gained traction among the native tribes. As it spread into urban areas such as New York City, Annapolis and Baltimore, and then throughout the eastern seaboard, it lost many of its similarities to the native version, but its fan base continued to grow.
As the 21st century approached, the sport skyrocketed in popularity, quickly becoming the fastest growing sport in America. Since the World Lacrosse Championship debuted, in 1967, the U.S has won 28 championships, fielding under-19, indoor and outdoor teams on both the men’s and women’s side.
In 2001, lacrosse joined the ranks of professional sports in the U.S. with the debut of Major League Lacrosse, which has since grown to nine teams with regional footprints across the country and an average of over 6,000 fans per game.
The NCAA began sponsoring championships for men in the 1970s and women in 1980s, and the NCAA Division I men’s championship weekend now routinely draws over 80,000 fans.
Lacrosse has topped the list of the most-added high school sports six years running. With 22 percent of schools adding girls’ lacrosse and 18 percent adding boys’ lacrosse in just the last year; participation grew by over 7,700 athletes in 12 months.
As spring showers and warm weather overtake the winter and usher in a new year with endless possibilities, consider trading an afternoon at the ballpark watching America’s National Pastime for a night at your local high school stadium to feast your eyes on America’s First Pastime, a sport that predates even our nation’s founding, which stretches back to our continent’s roots. You never know. Perhaps you’ll be one of the next wave of Americans to discover a new favorite sport.