Column: An old dog learns a new game

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren

Roger VanHaren

I’m very close to 80 years old and, until last weekend, I had never seen a lacrosse game. But our grandson, Carter, plays lacrosse, so we went to see his game on a chilly Sunday afternoon in May.

It wasn’t very hard to pick up how the game is played, but there were whistles for violations that I knew nothing about. But that’s not surprising: I watched our daughter play field hockey for four years in high school and never understood all the whistles in that game, either.

Carter’s team was a “senior” team – seventh- and eighth-graders – part of the Brookfield Lacrosse Association. Like any sport involving kids in that age group, there were many different sizes and shapes on the field. Size didn’t seem to be important; speed and stick handling did.

The kids were playing by men’s rules, so they were outfitted with protective gear: helmets with face guards, mouth guards, shoulder pads, padded gloves, elbow pads and cleats. After watching for a while, I could see why. There’s a lot of body contact, and the sticks are swinging all the time.

Some stuff you might not know: I didn’t! There are 10 players on each team: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and one goalie. Each player carries a lacrosse stick (“la crosse” in French is “the stick”) The sticks have a woven basket head that is used to catch and throw the ball. A short stick measures between 40 and 42 inches long and is used by attackmen and midfielders. A maximum of four players on the field per team may carry a long stick, which is between 52 and 72 inches long and is used by the three defensemen and sometimes one defensive midfielder. The goalie uses a stick with a head as wide as 12 inches that can be between 40 and 72 inches long.

The sticks are used both offensively and defensively. If an offensive player has the ball in his basket, a defensive player can strike his opponent’s stick to try to knock it loose. So there’s a lot stick-swinging going on.

The ball is hard rubber ball, about the size of a baseball, and it’s easy to see why the players wear protective gear: When the ball is fired at the goal, it’s traveling very fast. That could sting!

Lacrosse is part of the tradition of the Iroqouis people, who inhabited what is now New York and Pennsylvania. In the traditional Native American version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that could stretch from about 1,600 feet to almost two miles long. The games could last from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight and were played as part of ceremonial ritual, a kind of symbolic warfare, or to give thanks to the Creator or Master.

Luckily, Carter’s game lasted about an hour. We’d have been mighty cold if we’d have had to sit there from sunup to sundown! I had a great time watching the game and easily got caught up in the excitement of the competition. Yeah, he’s my grandson, but I thought Carter played well. Proud grandpa!

Contact Roger VanHaren at