Originally known as stickball, many may be surprised at how long the game of lacrosse has been around. Created by the Algonquin tribe of Native Americans, it was originally played in the eastern part of the U.S. and eventually migrated into the Great Lakes region.
The Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf, was the first European to see the sport being played in the 1630s and dubbed it lacrosse. Annual games were held and they were major events that could involve up to 100,000 Native American players at the same time.
Word of the game spread to Canadian dentist, Dr. William George Beers. In 1856 he founded the first lacrosse club, created more specific rules, reduced the number of players, redesigned the stick, and introduced a rubber ball. It became Canada’s national game.
Exhibitions were played in England in 1876 that drew big crowds, including Queen Victoria. By 1883, lacrosse was touted as a reason to immigrate to Canada and it was played during the Summer Olympics in 1904 and 1908.
St. Leonard’s School in St. Andrews, Scotland, lays claim to being the first girl’s school to play the game in 1890. In 1895, the number of players was increased to 10, and then to 12 in 1913. Lacrosse was played primarily in schools at first and then lacrosse clubs began cropping up throughout England, with the first international match held in 1913 between Wales and Scotland.
Lacrosse came back home to the U.S. for women through the efforts of Rosabelle Sinclair, a Scotswoman who had attended St. Leonard’s and played the sport there. During the 1930s, Canadians introduced box lacrosse that was played indoors, enabling fans to engage during the harsh winters. In 1936, the sport was also being played in Australia, but an official organization wasn’t created there until 1962.
Today, lacrosse leagues abound worldwide and more are being formed each year in the U.S. It’s a game that’s being played by pee wee teams and children in grade school to the collegiate level. For a time it gained a reputation as a sport for the elite, but it’s shedding that image as more middle class youngsters discover lacrosse and claim it as their own.