By Marc Lee
Time was, there wasnâ€™t enough lacrosse action in Texas to shake a stick at. But the sport is growing. If not by leaps and bounds, then inch by inch.
Long an East Coast pastime, lacrosse has entrenched itself in small pockets. Its heart lies in college teams at almost every major state university. And it has gained enough momentum that clubs have formed in Dallas, Coppell, Houston, and Austin.
For those who are la-clueless, lacrosse is played with a ball and long sticks that have a netted frame on one end. Players run, pass the ball to teammates, and toss the ball into a goal on the defending teamâ€™s end of the field. Players on menâ€™s teams can hit each other as long as they donâ€™t use their sticks, but no player except the goaltenders can touch the ball.
The game is a modernization of stickball games played by American Indians in New England and the Great Lakes region. French settlers encountered the sport in the early 15th century and gave it its name, a generic term for any game played with a stick.
One of lacrosseâ€™s strongholds is Texas A&M University, where the sportâ€™s followers are preparing for the schoolâ€™s 21st annual Fall Classic.
â€œItâ€™s basically a warm-up for the spring season,â€ says Bobby Jee, the tournamentâ€™s director. â€œEverybody gets a chance to get back in the swing of things, and itâ€™s a training ground for the refs and players.â€
Thirty teams â€” eight from colleges and the rest from clubs in Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri â€” will play from nearly dawn to dusk on Saturday and Sunday â€” a lacrosse fanâ€™s dream.
Mr. Jeeâ€™s interest in the sport grew during high school, and the mechanical engineering senior has helped out with A&Mâ€™s last three tournaments.
For him, lacrosseâ€™s appeal is its complexity and physicality. â€œItâ€™s a combination of football, basketball, and hockey,â€ he explains. â€œLacrosse is constantly going all the time, and the scores are high. Itâ€™s physical: You can hit people like in hockey, but we have rules against cross-checking and things like that.â€
Not everybody latches onto the gameâ€™s hit-and-run nature. Just ask Leslie Cole, tournament director for the womenâ€™s part of the Fall Classic.
â€œI love to watch guys,â€ she says laughing. â€œWe tease them all the time: â€˜Yâ€™all are just husky big ex-football players, but WE have to use our brains.'”
Women’s lacrosse is almost a different sport. Hitting isn’t allowed, so the emphasis is on footwork and finesse.
Ms. Cole defines the two versions this way: “Men’s lacrosse is very aggressive. It’s basically beat up the guy with the ball. Women’s is similar to basketball. You have to position yourself defensively. Women have to use centrifugal force [to keep the ball in the net]. You’ll see us swinging the ball back and forth a lot, because we have a shallower pocket.”
This is the eighth year for the women’s tournament. And this year, the winner gets to play in the national competition, something Ms. Cole’s team did last year. It was a first for a Texas team. “Everybody was looking at us to see if we were hillbillies,” she cracks.
While women haven’t participated in A&M’s Fall Classic for as long as the guys, Ms. Cole (a Bostonian and certainly no hillbilly) says she’s seen the sport grow rapidly in the three years she’s been at A&M.
“When I got here there were three freshmen who signed up,” she says. “Now we get 20 a year.”
All these new players need new gear. Another Yankee transplant, Joe Hannigan, is riding the lip of lacrosse’s new retail wave. The native Long Islander coaches the team at Plano West High School and manages Texas Lacrosse & Sports Inc., a Richardson sports store. The company began in Houston, opened the Richardson store in June and opened a store in Austin on Thursday.
Mr. Hannigan, who’s been playing for 25 years and coaching for 10, says his store draws club and college players from Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, and Coppell. He believes part of the sport’s attraction is that anybody can play lacrosse.
“You don’t have to be big or fast to play,” he says. “You can be anything – any kind of athlete.”
Ms. Cole, however, has discovered an interesting alternative route. Part of lacrosse’s growing popularity, she speculates, has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with fashion.
“I really think a lot of it has to do with the way companies publicize lacrosse. Kids are buying Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle clothes, and people see the lacrosse logos on their shirts. They say, ‘Oh, cool. You play lacrosse.’ Then they come and check it out.”
Before getting into the game, you need to know the score on this rough-and-tumble sport. Pad up!
Head: A plastic frame that comes in a variety of shapes with a loose mesh pocket for catching, shooting and passing the ball.
Stick: Traditionally made of wood, but modern sticks are made of lightweight aluminum alloy, and even exotic metals such as titanium or scandium. Sticks can be shaped specifically for different positions.
Shoulder pads: Actually a system of pads that protects not just the shoulders, but the stomach, back and sometimes hips. Made out of foam, plastic or gel.
Rib pads: Foam pads wrap around the ribs.
Arm pads: Various types of pads protect forearms and elbows or wrists.
Helmet: Sort of a combination of a football and baseball helmet. With heavy padding and a metal face guard plus a visor; also, air vents on top.
Gloves: A leather or synthetic palm to provide grip for the stick and a padded back to keep hands protected from sticks.
Ball: Made of solid rubber, the ball can be white, yellow or orange. It is 7.75 to 8 inches in circumference and weighs 5 to 5.25 ounces.POSITIONS
- There are 10 players on the field in men’s lacrosse: a goalkeeper, three defensemen, three midfielders and three attackmen.
- The goalie protects the goal and keeps the opposing team from scoring.
- The attackmen score goals. They generally stay on the offensive end of the field.
- The midfielders cover the entire field and play both offense and defense.
- The defensemen defend the goal. They generally remain on the defensive end of the field.
Women’s lacrosse teams have 12 players: five attack positions and seven defensive position.
First Home: The primary scorer. She continuously cuts in and away from the goal.
Second Home: The playmaker.
Third Home: Transitions the ball from defense to attack.
Attack Wings (2): Also transitions the ball.
Point: Must mark first home, stick check, body check, and intercept passes.
Coverpoint: Must mark second home, receive clears.
Third Man: Mark third home, intercept passes, clear the ball
Center: Controls the draw and plays both defense and attack.
Defense Wings (2): Mark the attack wings and bring the ball into the attack area.
Goalkeeper: Protects the goal.
The object of the game is to shoot the ball into the opponent’s goal. The team scoring the most goals wins. Men’s and women’s lacrosse have different rules. The rules here are basic. More specific regulations can be found at www.laxrules.com.
- Each team must keep at least four players, including the goalie, in its defensive half of the field and three in its offensive half. The three midfielders may roam the entire field.
- Teams change sides between periods. Each team has two time-outs per half. The team winning the coin toss picks the end of the field to defend.
- Men’s lacrosse begins with a face-off. The ball is placed between the sticks of two squatting players at the center of the field. The official blows the whistle to begin play. Each face-off player tries to control the ball. The players in the wing areas can release; the other players must wait until one player has gained possession of the ball or the ball has crossed the goal line.
- Center face-offs are also used after a goal and at the start of each quarter.
- Players may run with the ball in the crosse, pass and catch the ball. Only the goalkeeper may touch the ball with his hands.
- A player may gain possession of the ball by dislodging it from an opponent’s crosse with a stick check, which includes the controlled poking and slapping of the stick and gloved hands of the player in possession of the ball.
- Body checking is permitted if the opponent has the ball. However, all contact must occur from the front or side, above the waist and below the shoulders. An opponent’s crosse may also be stick checked if it is within 5 yards of a loose ball or ball in the air.
- If the ball or a player in possession of the ball goes out of bounds, the other team is awarded possession. If the ball goes out of bounds after an unsuccessful shot on goal, the player nearest to the ball when it goes out of bounds is awarded possession.
- An attacking player cannot enter the crease around the goal, but may reach in with his stick to scoop a loose ball.
- Women’s lacrosse begins with a draw, where the ball is flung into the air.
- When a whistle blows, all players must stop in place. When a ball is ruled out of play, the player closest to the ball gets possession. Loss of possession may occur if a player deliberately runs or throws the ball out of play.
- Rough checks, and contact to the body with the crosse or body, are not allowed.
- Field players may pass, catch or run with the ball in their crosse.
- No player may reach across an opponent’s body to check the handle of a crosse when she is even with or behind that opponent. A player may not protect the ball in her crosse by cradling it so close to her body or face so as to make a legal, safe check impossible for the opponent.