What are they doing with those sticks? | VailDaily.com

What are they doing with those sticks?

Ryan Slabaugh

That means nothing. I also know people who play bridge, but I haven’t a clue about the rules.

As is often in my line of work, writing about a sport doesn’t necessary mean I hold advanced degrees in it. I’d love to know karate and be a national champion snowshoer, but I’m not, so I consult those who are. Tuesday, I learned the basic rules of lacrosse and headed down to Nottingham Park in Avon to catch a little bit of the action, partly clueless, but mostly interested in learning a new sport.

There were plenty of us in the crowd who had no direct attachment to the teams. Walking down the sidewalk, I heard a two men yelling, “Hit somebody.” They switched topics and began talking about the 18th at Vail and forest fire prevention. Locals, no doubt. A little boy asked his mother if there were tennis players on the field. She shook her head.

Suprisingly, tennis and golf are two sports with no direct influence on the game of lacrosse. Usually considered an East Coast country club activity by those who don’t play, the game is nothing of the sort. “It’s hockey in the air,” Shootout organizer Matt Peterson said. “The rules are similar. There’s body checking. Controlled violence. There’s also an incredible amount of athleticism.”

Lacrosse seemed to be a sport like ski racing; both have an enormous and talented following and are pushed back to the bleacher seats when Nike comes to town. Lacrosse, in fact, is considered by those in the sport to be the true national pastime.

In the northeastern United States and Canada, dozens of native tribes played a form of lacrosse long before the boats arrived. Some games served as preparation for war. Legend holds that their fields were hundreds of miles long, with 1,000 soldiers per side. Legend also has it that basketball started with a peach basket. It’s a wonder what catches on, and what gets delegated the 2-3 a.m. spots on ESPN.

As with any Native American story, the story ends with lacrosse being handed over to a rich European, who applied rules, took out the spiritual elements and gave it a French name. La Crosse, actually means “the stick.” The game’s evolved, and a professional league, college scholarships and 250,000 players nationwide are its fruition.

“It’s the hardest sport I’ve ever played,” Petersen said. He grew up with the traditional sports, basketball and football, and made the switch. Petersen’s also running his own team in the Shootout, a men’s elite team with a solid shot at the title. Action begins tomorrow at Ford Park in Vail.

If you go but aren’t sure of what you’re seeing, here’s a little bit of what I learned. The men wear pads and face masks because their game has been changed to add checking, use of the stick to the body, and tackling. The ladies don’t, for the most part, because their game is truer to the original form than the men’s. It’s about strategy, passing and finesse.

For illegal activities, there is a penalty box. The good players stay out of the box and around the goal. Watch for angles. The game is all about passing, and good passes come at good angles. The game is organized like soccer and hockey with midfielders, goalies and forwards or attackmen. The referees will throw penalty flags, call offsides and regulate any unnecessary roughness.

The game is also divided into four periods. If there’s a tie game at the end of regulation, the game can go into two overtimes, and then, if necessary, a sudden death period. The ball can be compared to a heavy racquetball.

All in all, think of lacrosse as hockey without skates, soccer with sticks or just as a sport of its own. If you’re still confused, go figure it out yourself. The tournament is going on at Ford Field, Ramsey Park, Avon or a the Eagle-Vail Field from Thursday to Sunday.

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