Bob Bestler

As it turns out, this sport is a long way from being from a foreign land

Waccamaw's Brandon Ahalt takes a shot against Myrtle Beach.
Waccamaw's Brandon Ahalt takes a shot against Myrtle Beach.

I grew up playing a lot of sports or, as I considered them, American sports — football, basketball, baseball.

I knew there were others, but I figured those were played in foreign lands, far from home. They didn’t count. You know the ones: cricket, soccer, rugby, lacrosse.

I tried watching cricket on TV once, in Ireland, but gave up after a few minutes. Way too complicated.

I’ve watched a few soccer games on TV, mainly the U.S. women playing at the Olympics. I even watched a rugby game during a vacation in Bermuda.

Lacrosse? Well, I knew it was a city in Wisconsin, but little else — until my grandson Jacob took up the game this year at Myrtle Beach High School and became passionate about it.

When he visited a few weeks ago, he brought his lacrosse stick and a ball, then spent a part of the visit flinging the ball against McClellanville Middle School’s brick wall and expertly catching it with a net on the end of the stick.

I knew nothing about the game and he briefly filled me in. For one thing, I learned, it can be a rough game. With all the sticks flying around, flinging a small, hard rubber ball, players need masks and pads.

There is as much or more running than in soccer. And there can be a lot of scoring. In one game I watched (research, you know), Notre Dame defeated Duke 12-10 — scores you are unlikely to see in soccer or hockey.

Jacob’s interest told me I needed to fill this gap in my sports background.

The first thing I learned is that lacrosse, far from being some kind of foreign sport, is easily the oldest of all American sports.

American football, basketball and baseball all trace to the late 19th century, but lacrosse was a tribal game played by Native Americans as early as the 1400s as a form of training for young warriors. Those games could last from morning to night and could continue for two or three days, involving hundreds of players.

In the 1600s, a Jesuit priest named Jean de Brebeuf watched the natives play and in a report to church elders in France said the stick reminded him of the bishop’s crosier — cross — and it soon became lacrosse to Westerners.

If I’d been paying attention, I would have noticed Daniel Day Lewis playing lacrosse in “Last of the Mohicans” and realized it had been played in America for a long time. Duh.

A website called LacrossePal called lacrosse the fastest-growing sport in the United States, expanding by 30 percent in the past five years. One reason is that “players can apply several skill sets that they gradually learn from other sports.”

Another website on college sports said lacrosse is now played in more than 500 universities and colleges and more than 1,400 high schools. Women’s lacrosse programs are active in 150 colleges and universities and 100 high schools.

So now I know. Lacrosse is a great American game and not just a city on the Mississippi.

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