All lacrosse, all the time


Three springs ago, our sons came home talking about signing up for some new sport we’d never heard of: lacrosse. They knew a few things about the game. It involved sticks with nets. Helmets. Pads-lots of pads. It "moves fast," they told us, and "it’s fun!"

We parents knew nothing at all.

We researched it a bit. I talked to other parents to see what they said about the coach, the organization of the games, the time commitments. My husband checked on line for the necessities and the costs -- and then he started checking with other friends about possible deals for the equipment.

At that point, we put out an ultimatum: if you want to play, you commit to two years. Nothing less -- it’s too much money. They jumped at the chance and have never looked back.

The first game our oldest played in was at a tournament in Bennington, on a brilliant late-April Saturday. Surrounded by the infinite shades of green of the mountains in early spring, the opposing team seemed intent on making our guys turn black and blue. I watched with a mixture of dread, fearing some great injury ... and fascination as our boys started to change and charge as they learned.

Very few of our team had played lacrosse before this season; this was their very first time on the field. We could see their understanding grow with each body check that stopped their advance, with every stick check that stole their ball. The only thing lacking from the scene was the little cartoon pop-ups that reflected their thoughts: "You can do THAT? Then so will I!"

We sideline cheerleaders/parents barely understood enough to know when to groan and what to encourage. But we were not bored.

Lacrosse just never stops. You pass the ball, and if you miss? Pick it up, keep running, head for the goal. Your attempt at the goal fell short and it’s on the ground? Scoop it up, kick it out of the way of the other players, keep it from the opposing player. Other guys have possession? Get it back: hit their sticks, block them.

According to the U.S. Lacrosse Organization, lacrosse was one of the original indigenous stickball games being played when the Europeans arrived. In the mid-1800s, English speaking Montrealers adapted what they had seen to new rules, and formed clubs. The sport quickly gained fans in Canada-so much so that many say that it is the official game of Canada. (In fact, in 1994, the National Sports of Canada Act declared: "the game commonly known as ice hockey is hereby recognized and declared to be the national winter sport of Canada and the game commonly known as lacrosse is hereby recognized and declared to be the national summer sport of Canada.") It is now considered to be one of the fastest growing sports in the USA, according to U.S. Lacrosse.

U.S. Lacrosse notes that this game "traditionally played a more serious role in Indian culture. Its origins are rooted in legend, and the game continues to be used for curative purposes and surrounded with ceremony. Game equipment and players are still ritually prepared by conjurers, and team selection and victory are often considered supernaturally controlled."

But here’s the part that my kids like to point out: "Lacrosse also served to vent aggression, and territorial disputes between tribes were sometimes settled with a game, although not always amicably. Still ... much of the ceremony surrounding their preparations and the rituals required of the players were identical to those practiced before departing on the warpath." Lacrosse’s popularity decreased in the late 1800s, as traditional Indian culture eroded. "An outright ban occurred around 1900, when the Oklahoma Choctaw began to attach lead weights to their sticks-using them as "skull-crackers".

With a bit of adjustment for rules-and safety-this game is everything my boys want: fast-paced and non-stop, accompanied by the opportunity to be a little more aggressive than I would have normally encouraged. Perhaps it’s everything girls want, too, since Brattleboro has women’s lacrosse teams from fourth grade through high school as well.

Our springs have changed. Gone are my Saturday afternoon gardening ventures to local nurseries where I dreamed and schemed, mentally juxtaposing colors and shapes. Spring projects like mulching and weeding, readying pots and bringing out the patio furniture are scheduled precisely, and completed quickly-in whatever weather it might be. Tournament starts with first game at 10:30, it’s a 90 minute drive away; we have to be there an hour early? Well, the sun is up at 5 AM; that gives us three hours-what can we accomplish?

Daily "straightening up the house" suddenly requires trips to the garage-where I (apparently erroneously) believe the lacrosse equipment lives. My living room resembles a lacrosse stick factory, with bits of cut string in bright colors in various piles. The lighter, which should stay safely in its cupboard home, finds its way out to the coffee table. I find a lacrosse head on the front porch. A lacrosse bounce back now sits on the lawn; our shed door sports circular dents, all around the same height.

The lacrosse sticks seem to live in their hands. They ride the bus with them to school; they go with to church. ("We need to restring this head, why can’t we do that if we are quiet?") Their friends come over, and the lacrosse sticks multiply-and not by just one per kid, because there are special "D poles" for defense, and this one is "special because it’s got this new shaft"...

I overhear discussions (and arguments) on the importance of good pockets, how to make a good pocket, what is a legal pocket-and most importantly-how their mother MUST NOT MOVE this pocket overnight, and it must stay on the kitchen counter, in this exact position, with this kitchen knife, until THEY move it ....

Our second son is enormously proud of the broken window on the garage door. I had a different sentiment when I saw it. However, our friends’ son has now broken four windows: one in their house and one for each of three neighbors. I’ve been pondering if this means I should be happy that we’re "only" at one broken window, or if I should resign myself to more?

I have a love/hate relationship with sports in general. I fondly remember the feeling of being a part of a team, the exuberance when we did well. I believe in the inherent value of keeping active and I love seeing my children excited about their sport. Even my husband and my daughter have sticks (and no, I’m fine without one).

But, I don’t love juggling practices and games with family time. If one son practices from 3:30 to 5:30, and the next one starts at 6 and doesn’t end until 7:30, home more towards 8 p.m. ... when do you eat family supper? When there is a game at 6 p.m. for the middle child, how does the whole family attend the 7 p.m. band concert the same night? How far away, exactly, is Rutland, and is it really fair that the youngest has to go to, as she puts it, "yet another lacrosse game"?

Ah, well, it’s a short season, starting in April and ending by early June ... as long as they don’t sign up for that camp, or the extended season of box lacrosse at the dome in Bernardstown...

By the way, if you have not seen a lacrosse game, it’s worth venturing out. The girls will finish out their season next week, with a home game on Tuesday, May 27th for JV at 5:30 and varsity at 7 p.m. BUHS boys varsity and JV both have their last home games next week, too: Wednesday, May 28, JV plays Woodstock at 5 p.m., with varsity following at 7 p.m. They repeat the same schedule on Friday, May 30, finishing their season with a game against Mt. Anthony.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.


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