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America’s First Sport from SU David B. Falk College on Vimeo.

The first sporting event ever observed by Europeans in North America was a lacrosse game in 1637. Jesuit missionaries from France saw hundreds of native men playing a ball game with sticks that they thought resembled a bishop’s crosier, so they called the game “lacrosse.”

That makes lacrosse the oldest sport in America, and in the 21st century it is also the fastest growing. This rapid growth in participation, domestically and globally, presents the sport with a new set of opportunities and several challenges.

Students in The History of Sport class at Syracuse University’s Department of Sport Management researched the history, current status and future prospects of lacrosse during the 2012-13 academic year. This film is a product of their research which was led by Sport Management faculty.

America’s First Sport was made possible by funding from members of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics Advisory Board and other generous donors.
We thank you, and enjoy America’s First Sport.


Narrated by Mike Tirico
Original Score by Bill DiCosimo
Director of Photography Michael Barletta
Edited by Holly Rodricks
Coordinating Producer: John Craddock III
Written, produced and directed by Dennis Deninger

Copyright Syracuse University 2013

History of Lacrosse

 
With a history that spans centuries, lacrosse is the oldest sport native to the North American continent. Rooted in Native American religion, lacrosse was often played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick, build strength and virility and give thanks to the Creator. To many Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as “The Creator’s Game.”
 
Ironically, lacrosse also served as a preparation for war. Legends tell of as many as 1,000 players per side, from the same or different tribes, who took turns engaging in a violent contest. Contestants played on a field from one to fifteen miles in length, and games sometimes lasted for days. Some tribes used a single pole, tree or rock for a goal, while other tribes constructed two goalposts through which the ball had to pass. Balls were made out of wood, deerskin, baked clay, or stone.
 
The evolution of the Native American game into modern lacrosse began in 1636 when Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, documented a Huron contest in what is now southeast Ontario, Canada. At that time, a variation of lacrosse was played by at least 48 Native American tribes scattered throughout the northeast, Great Lakes and southeast parts of what is now the United States and Canada. French pioneers began playing the game avidly in the 1800s. Canadian dentist W. George Beers standardized the game in 1867 with the adoption of set field dimensions, limits to the number of players per team, and other basic rules.
 
New York University fielded the nation’s first college men’s team in 1877, and Philips Andover Academy (Massachusetts), Philips Exeter Academy (New Hampshire) and the Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) were the nation’s first high school teams (men) in 1882. The first women’s lacrosse game was played in 1890 at the St. Leonard’s School in Scotland. Although an attempt was made to start women’s lacrosse at Sweet Briar College in Virginia in 1914, it was not until 1926 that Rosabelle Sinclair established the first women’s lacrosse team in the United States at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland.
 
Men’s and women’s lacrosse were played under virtually the same rules, with no protective equipment, until the mid-1930s. At that time, men’s lacrosse began evolving dramatically, while women’s lacrosse continued to remain true to the game’s original rules. Men’s and women’s lacrosse remain two distinct forms of the same game today, but are played under different rules. Women’s rules limit stick contact, prohibit body contact and, therefore, require little protective equipment. Men’s lacrosse rules allow some degree of stick and body contact, and the game requires protective equipment.
 
Men’s field lacrosse is sometimes perceived to be a violent game, but injury statistics prove otherwise. While serious injuries can and do occur in lacrosse, the game has evolved with an emphasis on safety, and the rate of injury is comparatively low when measured against other sports.