Over the 2018 Memorial Day Weekend, the Yale University men’s lacrosse team, and the James Madison women’s team won their respective championships following a grueling and challenging 2018 collegiate season! For Yale, it was the men’s first championship in school history, and James Madison’s ladies won despite being underdogs against the heavily favored Boston College, led by 2018 Tewaaraton winner, Sam Apuzzo.
Fans from all over the United States, including those at our own Alpha Lacrosse’s final four watch party, gathered to watch the thrilling culmination of the 2018 season. However, the NCAA Lacrosse Final Four wasn’t always the marquee event that it was in 2018.
In fact, the growth of lacrosse in the United States is a rich and diverse story, one that originated with a group of people you might not expect. And although lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States today, it wasn’t always considered a major sport in our country.
At Alpha Lacrosse, we’re not only on the cutting edge of the latest technology with the development of our equipment, we consider ourselves students of the sport, and use the fascinating history of lacrosse in our brand, athleisure, and gear!
So, for those that don’t know the rich history of our game, and how it got us to where we are today, all you really need to know are lacrosse’s four major milestones in its growth. From its early origins, to its development for European settlers in the 19th century, followed by its mainstream successes in the 20th and 21st centuries, the history of lacrosse is just as dramatic and thrilling as the game itself.
Early Origins Of The Oldest American Sport
The honor of inventing our beautiful game goes to the Iroquois people, an indigenous North American tribe in modern-day Canada, who invented the sport we’ve grown to love over 300 years ago.
Calling it O-tä-dä-jish′-quä-äge, in their native language of Seneca, the Iroquis would hurl balls made of deer skin with their wooden sticks at two poles with the goal of splitting the uprights to score a point…
…sounds familiar, right?
And although this goalkeeper-less version of lacrosse remains popular as of 2015 in certain parts of the world, the Iroquis had no idea that their fun little game would set the stage for modern-day lacrosse to bloom into the multi-million-dollar industry that it is today
Lacrosse’s Development in the 19th Century
From the mid-1700’s until about 1800, the Iroquis version of Lacrosse continued to be a sport popular among indigenous tribes throughout modern day Canada and the United States. In 1805, U.S. Army Officer, Lt. Zebulon Pike, discovered a tribe of Ho-Chunk Sioux Indians playing the sport in what is now central Wisconsin.
His immediate appreciation of the sport, led to more settlers of European descent adopting the game. In 1856, a Canadian dentist by the name of William George Beers founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. Needing eleven years to tailor the game to a more “European style,” in 1867 he brought the game across the Atlantic pond to England, where British citizens immediately took pleasure in watching and playing the game. In fact, in 1876, Queen Victoria was shown an exhibition game. Upon being asked, the Queen, who was impressed with the game, called the bout, “pretty to watch.”
Mainstream Success of Lacrosse in the 20th Century
By the early 20th century, many high schools and universities had adopted lacrosse into their official collegiate sports programs. In fact, in 1904, Lacrosse was played in the Olympics, only to be dropped by the Olympic Committee for 1908. Despite being stricken from the largest international stage, lacrosse continued to be played in the World Games from 1908 onward.
From the early 20th century until the 1970’s, different variations of lacrosse came and went, most notably an indoor version called box lacrosse. These different ways of playing ultimately led to our modern game of having ten players on each team, with a designated goalkeeper acting as the last line of defense, for each respective team.
This development was predominantly driven by the college game, wherein the early 1970’s the NCAA established a playoff system for determining a yearly champion!
Hofstra University, of Hempstead New York, took home the first official NCAA Men’s Championship for Lacrosse, defeating Maryland 12-6 in 1971.
Development of Professional Lacrosse Leagues
With the college game bringing notoriety to the sport, and with the growing successes of other professional leagues, such as the NFL and NBA in the 70’s and 80’s, the Eagle Pro Box League was founded in 1987. Officially the first professional lacrosse league in the US, the Eagle Pro Box League had four teams, and originally played the box style of lacrosse, as is suggested in the name.
After two years, the Eagle Pro Box League expanded to become the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, where the box lacrosse style of play continued. With eleven teams, four in Canada and seven in the United States (all of which were on the East Coast), this expansion helped usher in the mainstream popularity of the sport on North America’s Atlantic Coast.
Many Americans today would associate lacrosse as more popular in the East Coast than the West Coast, and that’s largely due to the momentum of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League’s east coast presence from 1987 – 1997. It wasn’t until 1997 when the National Lacrosse League was founded and took the form of lacrosse we’ve grown to globally understand today. As of 2018, the National Lacrosse League is the most recognizable professional lacrosse league in the world, where the best lacrosse talent across the world play.
Alpha Lacrosse: Continuing the Progression of the Sport
At Alpha Lacrosse, we’re proud to be on the forefront of ushering in the growing popularity of lacrosse to the West Coast. As ambassadors of the game, and enthusiast ourselves, we envision being monumental in the west coast lacrosse circuit and the development of lacrosse culture for years to come.
We’ve already seen tremendous growth on the west coast, with a five-team western division making up half of the National Lacrosse League, including our hometown San Diego Seals.
Between the organic growth of the sport, the development of collegiate and professional leagues, and the modernization of equipment, we’re excited to see how lacrosse will continue to soar up popularity charts not only in North America, but around the entire world.
In fact, Alpha Lacrosse is proud to have recently unveiled an all-new lacrosse product and athleisure line, highlighted by the Ascension Lacrosse head, a sleek and innovative design, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced!
Whether you’re a new or experienced lacrosse athlete, we’re here to help refine your game and connect you to the ever-growing lacrosse community. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @alphalacrosse, where we post information on meetups and events, and where you can find our latest and greatest updates on our equipment and athleisure.
Where we stand today, we love being able to reflect on the history of lacrosse, because it helps us further appreciate the beautiful game we play today. At Alpha Lacrosse, we look forward to being contributors to the history that has not yet been written, for the fastest growing sport in the United States!