A Spring Sport Worth Watching
By Guest Blogger Rob Yunich:
Quick, name the state sport of Maryland. Give up? It’s jousting – and lacrosse. While jousting is fun at a renaissance festival or two, lacrosse is really something you should experience this spring.
Lacrosse, sometimes known as the fastest sport on two feet, has been around for centuries and was founded by Native Americans as early as the 17th century. The NCAA has been sponsoring a men’s lacrosse championship since 1971. The sport used to be based on the East Coast, but now schools such as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Air Force and the University of Denver field a Division I men’s lacrosse team.
Lacrosse itself is a speedy game that is unique but also draws elements from soccer and hockey. The men’s game is allows checking and even permits some players (within reason) to whack others with their sticks. The only real equipment is a stick (called a crosse), a ball, helmets, and some padding. Goalies don’t wear anything special (although their stick is different).
Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Navy, and the University of Virginia all boast strong Division I men’s programs nearby, while Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore captured five Division III titles in 2003-05 and 2007-08. Nationally, Syracuse (my alma mater) has captured the most Division I all-time men’s titles, but Johns Hopkins and Virginia have both won two titles since 2003.
The other cool thing is that Ivy League schools, so overmatched in almost every other sport, are national powers in lacrosse. Princeton (whose former coach now leads the Denver program) has won six titles and Cornell has made the Final Four the last two years.
The women’s game is a bit less physical than the men’s and helmets are forbidden. Maryland has one of the best programs in women’s lacrosse history, winning the 2010 title and unleashing seven straight titles from 1995-2001 that rivaled UCLA as one of the longest championship streaks in NCAA history.
There’s even a local professional team, the Chesapeake Bayhawks, who won the 2010 Major League Lacrosse title and play their home games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Did you know that 48,970 attended the 2008 NCAA men’s national title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass? That’s the largest crowd ever to witness an NCAA outdoor championship. It’s also approximately the same size capacity crowd as Maryland’s Byrd Stadium and more than a whole bunch of college football teams attract on a weekly basis.
Meanwhile, 37,126 attended last year’s game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and 41,935 were present at the 2009 edition at Gillette Stadium.
This year’s men’s Final Four is back at M&T Bank Stadium over its traditional Memorial Day weekend. So, whether you venture to Charm City for the championship, attend a local high school or college game, or tune into a lacrosse game on TV, be sure to make some time for one of the oldest sports around.