What began as stickball, a native American Indian contest played by tribal warriors for training, recreation, and religious reasons, has developed over the years into the interscholastic, professional, and international sport of lacrosse.
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Who Invented Lacrosse & Where Did Lacrosse Originate?
Lacrosse was originally called stickball by Native American Indians. The Algonquian tribe played the game in the St. Lawrence Valley area. Other tribes followed them in the eastern half of North America and around the western Great Lakes.
Native American games were major events that took place over several days. Played over large open areas between villages, the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were from 500 yards to several miles apart. There could be any number of players. In some estimates, between 100 and 100,000 players participate in a game at any given time. There were no boundaries and the ball could not be touched by a player’s hand. To signal the start of the game, the ball was tossed into the air and players raced to catch it.
Later, deerskin balls filled with fur replaced the original wooden balls. Eventually, the sticks evolved into more sophisticated implements, such as the netting made from deer sinew. To prepare for a game, players decorated their faces and bodies with paint and charcoal.
Lacrosse is played for a number of reasons. In addition to being a sport that toughened up young warriors for war, it was also a sport played for recreation and for religious reasons. Often, bets were placed on the outcome of games.
In the 1630s, French Jesuit missionaries working in the St. Lawrence Valley were the first Europeans to witness Native Americans playing lacrosse. Jean de Brébeuf wrote about the game being played by the Huron Indians in 1636, and it is he who named the game lacrosse.
Caughnawaga Indians demonstrated lacrosse in Montreal in 1834.
Lacrosse began to grow in popularity in Canada as a result. Dr. William George Beers, a dentist from Canada, founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1856. After a decade, he drafted rules which included reducing the number of players, introducing a rubber ball, and redesigning the stick.
Lacrosse became Canada’s national game in 1860 and exhibition games were played in England in 1867. During a game in 1876, Queen Victoria commented, “This game is very pretty to watch.”
A touring team from Canada and a team comprised of Iroquois Indians visited Scotland in 1883.
During the tour, promotional literature was distributed to the spectators pointing out the benefits of emigration to Canada.
At the turn of the century, lacrosse became more popular in several countries, and in 1904 and 1908, lacrosse was a part of the Summer Olympics.
A WOMEN’S LACROSSE CONTEST WAS PLAYED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SCOTLAND
St. Leonard’s School in St. Andrews, Scotland claims to be the first girls’ school to play lacrosse in 1890.
Miss Lumsden, the first Headmistress, viewed a game played in 1884 in Canada between the Canghuwaya Indians and the Montreal Club, in Montreal, and found it “beautiful and graceful.” As a result, the game was introduced at the school.
According to an article written by a student in a student magazine, the first lacrosse match took place at St. Leonards on March 27th, 1890: “Our referee held our crosses up and squinted with one eye to ensure that what should be a plane surface was not a curved surface. Our referee said it was time to start, but due the absence of the ball, it was rather difficult for the order to be carried out. After ‘123 Play’ was called, the ball was duly found, and a vigorous game ensued.”
According to the official account of that first game, “whether the game, on the whole, was successful may be doubted, but at least we advanced far enough in its mysteries to be able to play a good and exciting game in the matches”. “They were played on the field with teams of eight and lasted one hour, not including a ten minute interval in the middle, after which the goals were changed.
There were ten players in 1895, and by 1913, there were twelve, known by the current positions. Players used long sticks with short handles.
St Leonards seniors (alumni) introduced lacrosse to schools in the south of England, specifically Wycombe Abbey School in 1896 and Roedean School in 1902.
Bedford Physical Training College and Madame Bergman *sterberg’s College of Physical Education in England added lacrosse to their programs in 1903/04 with the help of former students. Trained teachers then introduced the sport to their schools.
Lacrosse began as a school sport, and clubs followed later. In 1905, the Southern Ladies Club in England was founded.
In 1912, the Ladies Lacrosse Association was founded in England. International matches began the following year. According to the Standard newspaper, dated April 18th, 1913, “in the very first international lacrosse match, held in Richmond, Scotland beat Wales 11 goals to two.”
The Scottish Ladies Lacrosse Association was founded in 1920 and at that stage international matches with England became official. Both founded their organizations in 1930. Rosabelle Sinclair, a former Scottish lacrosse player and alumna of St Leonards, was instrumental in establishing lacrosse as a sport for women in the United States.
Despite earlier attempts by other enthusiasts, it was not until Rosabelle started a girls’ high school team in 1926, at Bryn Mawr School, in Baltimore. This is because lacrosse became popular in other nearby schools. The United States formed its organization, the USWLA, in 1931.
Lacrosse was played by women in Victoria, Australia, in 1936 but it was not until 1962 that they founded their national organization, the Australian Women’s Lacrosse Council. Canada selected an international team in 1982 to take part in the first World Lacrosse Tournament which took place in Nottingham, England.