Marylanders have been looking for places and excuses to play lacrosse since the 1880s, when Johns Hopkins first fielded a team. The school's unceasing allegiance to the sport—it is home to the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame—is one reason why these days "you can't walk more than a few blocks in Baltimore or Annapolis without seeing a lacrosse net in someone's driveway," says Joe Gold, U.S. Lacrosse's director of special events. The sport has roots in other parts of the country, Long Island and upstate New York in particular, but nothing compares with Maryland, where high school lax games draw as many as 5,000 fans. When the University of Maryland hosted the NCAA Final Four at M&T Bank Stadium in May, 37,944 came out for the final despite heavy rains, obliterating the previous attendance record of 26,229.
Participants outnumbered fans at Ocean City, and the atmosphere on the field was intense. Players screamed at officials and chastised teammates who didn't hustle. "We're all family," said Danny Hart, 26, owner of the Kislings Tavern & Grill and president of its team. "We love to get together for beers, but when you put your lid on and go out there it's serious. We're playing for bragging rights, and after college that's just about everything."
The final rights were settled when Annapolis-based Single Source Solution played Baltimore-based Laxworld Dewalt for the men's elite title. The crowd (girlfriends, family members, other players) cheered and jeered the finer points of the game, while kids worked as ball boys and dogs loped along the sidelines. After Source had won, 12-8, the team members gathered at midfield to get their caps and shorts from Huelskamp. When they broke from their final huddle with a celebratory whoop—"This is like our national title," said Source attackman Dudley Dixon—some tossed the hats in the air, graduation-day-style.
As the crowd filed away, many stopped to shake Huelskamp's hand. "Thank you," they'd say, "this was great." His face shone as one big grin. "All right!" he kept saying. "We'll see you next summer."