"As the lacrosse market grows, people are trying to leverage it, and many aren't as concerned with the game as with getting their pound of flesh," says Stenersen of US Lacrosse. "The good news is the Johnny Appleseed principle--the volunteers who have served as the conscience and torchbearers of the sport. The tightrope we walk is to make sure we're preserving our ideals. We have to develop as a sport for all."
If you think of lacrosse as that Labrador retriever Roy Simmons Jr. referred to, half the family wants to leave a bandanna around its neck and half wants to crown the dog's head with a do-rag. Manufacturers try to develop gear that will give a customer an advantage; rules makers want to give defensemen a chance by keeping pockets from getting too deep. Promoters know that kids now swap digital files of Michael Powell's coolest moves; purists scoff that "the flip" was all show, and no serious player would ever consider quitting at 22 to play the friggin' guitar. Marketers trick up pro lacrosse with two-point lines and shot clocks and stagecraft like Gait's entrance at a Mammoth game on a Harley; men who prepped at Baltimore's Gilman School and played at Johns Hopkins are appalled that NLL players admit to the existence of goons. Some parents see the sport as a path to a college scholarship; others fear that Gait's National Development Program will bring to youth lacrosse the travel-team lunacy of soccer and basketball.
"For a long time we all drank from the same fountain," says Lasagna. "Now people are drinking from different cups. How will the traditions be passed down? Not just the right way to shoot or pass the ball, but the deeper philosophical traditions? I've been at camps and watched 250 kids listen to [Bucknell coach and Native American] Sid Jamieson bring greetings from the People of the Long House and talk about honoring your environment and playing for the Creator. We can't lose that, yet Sid is about to retire. Camps serve a different function now. They're all about recruiting exposure."
In his book Lacrosse: A History of the Game, Donald Fisher argues that the sport's overarching theme has always been one of contested ground. But the game has also found comfort in all that knocks around within it. It's a reassuring clatter. As lacrosse enthusiasts fashion a hybrid from these competing strains, they might take inspiration from a Mohawk legend that is often retold, about a game of lacrosse played long ago between the birds and the land animals.
A rodent wanted to join his fellow quadrupeds for the big match, but they rebuffed him because he was small and scrawny. So he scaled a tree and pleaded with the eagles and hawks to be permitted to play with them. The birds agreed and fashioned a pair of wings for him from the skin of a ceremonial drum. Whereupon the rodent joined the winged creatures and, with speed and agility, confounded the deer and the bears and the wolves to help win the game for the birds. Which is how something new--the bat--came to be. ?