Yes, Lacrosse is a Real Sport (Especially in New York)

by Deb Seymour

I recently came across a tweet that said lacrosse isn’t a real sport; and hence, the retirement of a longstanding player wasn’t newsworthy. I’m sure the remark was half joking, in that very Twitter way of prioritizing snark over actual belief. But the tweet received enough “likes” to spark me thinking about what prompted it — and about whether the average US sports fan knows very much about lacrosse.

Did you know that lacrosse is the national summer sport of Canada? Many people in the US seem to presume that exclusively hockey is Canada’s national sport; but actually, in 1994, the Canadian Parliament passed the National Sports of Canada Act declaring lacrosse to be Canada’s National Summer Sport and ice hockey to be Canada’s National Winter Sport. Lacrosse has been known to be Canada’s National Game since 1859; and up until 1994, it was Canada’s only official national sport.

The name “lacrosse” came from French settlers of Canada back in the 1700s, who observed indigenous peoples playing the game and over time became interested in playing it themselves. William George Beers of Canada, known as the father of modern lacrosse, produced a pamphlet in the 1860s that detailed the rules and instructions for the sport. He also replaced the deerskin ball used by indigenous people when playing the game with one made from hard rubber. Beers’ Montreal Lacrosse Club organized a conference in 1867 to create the National Lacrosse Association — later known as the Canadian Lacrosse Association, or CLA; and today known as Lacrosse Canada.

Unbeknownst to most US sports fans, the National Lacrosse Association was North America’s first national sport governing body. Its goal was to standardize rules, organize national championships, and, according to its original charter, “promote good fellowship and unity across the country.” By the end of 1867, there were 80 lacrosse clubs operating across Canada (The Culture Trip, March 2017).

Today, Lacrosse Canada is comprised of 10 Member Associations (MA’s) representing nearly 80,000 individual participants, including coaches, officials, and athletes of all ages and abilities.

Before I moved to Maryland, if anyone had asked me to describe lacrosse and if I’d ever seen it played, my surprised response would have been “I can’t, and no — I haven’t.” But it turns out that lacrosse is pretty popular in Maryland, and not just in the state in which I now reside. In fact, it’s pretty popular throughout the Northeastern US, even though as a New York City native I never came across it much over my years in the city. It turns out, however, that the New York-Maryland rivalry is pretty high on the list of lacrosse rivalries in the US. According to an article by John Jiloty in Inside Lacrosse, “It’s lacrosse’s oldest debate. Long Island versus Baltimore: who has the better talent?” (July 2012).

Here is the statistic that surprised me the most, however: according to Matt Anderson of, New York is the state with the largest total number of high school athletes participating in lacrosse, including both the largest number of male high school lacrosse players and the largest number of female high school lacrosse players. It also has the largest number of high schools playing lacrosse out of all of the sanctioned states, with 314. Not only does New York have the largest number of players and high schools in the country, it also has the most NCAA lacrosse teams — men’s and women’s combined number of programs — as well as the highest number of professional lacrosse teams (, December 2020).

Lacrosse involves a rubber ball, a lacrosse stick with lacrosse mesh at the end, a goal with a net, and (optionally in some leagues, required in others) a lacrosse helmet with face mask. Ten-person teams face off as they try to get the small rubber ball into their opponent’s goal. It’s as complicated a game as any other game with rules — as well as penalties for not obeying the rules. Now that I’ve actually seen it played, it’s an exciting game and certainly its players appear to be having a terrific, competitive time trying to win. So, all told, yes, lacrosse is a real sport. And if you’ve never watched it, you might just want to give it a shot.

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