Lacrosse is a team sport of Native American origin played using a small solid rubber ball and a long-handled stick called a crosse or lacrosse stick, mainly played on the East Coast of the United States and Canada. The head of the lacrosse stick is strung with loose mesh designed to catch and hold the lacrosse ball. Offensively, the objective of the game is to score by shooting the ball into an opponent's goal, using the lacrosse stick to catch, carry, and pass the ball to do so. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to dispossess them of the ball through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning. The sport has four major types: men's field lacrosse, women's lacrosse, box lacrosse and intercrosse. Lacrosse (in particular box lacrosse) is the national summer sport of Canada.
Lacrosse, a relatively popular team sport in the Americas, may have developed as early as the 5th century, but since then has undergone many modifications. In the traditional Native Canadian version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 yards to a couple of miles long. These lacrosse games lasted from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight. These games were played as part of ceremonial ritual to give thanks to the Creator. The modern Ojibway verb 'to play Lacrosse' is baaga'adowe (Baggataway [sic]).
Lacrosse played significant role in the community and religious life of tribes across the continent for many years. Early lacrosse was characterized by deep spiritual involvement, befitting the spirit of combat in which it was undertaken. Those who took part did so in the role of warriors, with the goal of bringing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes. The game was said to be played "for the Creator" or was referred to as "The Creator's Game".
The French Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, saw Iroquois tribesmen play it in 1637 and was the first European to write about the game. He called it la crosse ("the stick"). Some say the name originated from the French term for field hockey, le jeu de la crosse. Others suggest that it was named after the crosier, a staff carried by bishops.
In 1856, William George Beers, a Canadian dentist, founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. In 1867 he codified the game, shortening the length of each game and reducing the number of players to twelve per team. The first game played under Beers' rules was at Upper Canada College in 1867, with Upper Canada College losing to the Toronto Cricket Club by a score of 3–1. By the 20th century, high schools, colleges, and universities began playing the game. Lacrosse was contested as a demonstration sport in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. On each occasion, a playoff was held to determine the American representative to the Olympics and on each occasion the playoffs were won by the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays.
In the United States, lacrosse during the 1900s had primarily been a regional sport centered in and around the east coast, more common in areas such as Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In the last half of the 20th century, the sport continued further growth west of this region in smaller areas, including the midwest, such as Ohio and Texas as well as the west coast, including Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. In the past decade, the sport has continued to grow in large numbers nationwide, with particular development in the southeast, such as Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, the Midwest and the west coast. Lacrosse is currently the fastest growing sport in the midwest. Lacrosse is popular all across Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the northern territory of Nunavut.
The sport has gained increasing visibility in the media, with a growth of college, high school, and youth programs throughout the country. The NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship has the highest attendance of any NCAA Championship, outdrawing the Final Four of men's basketball. The growth of lacrosse was also facilitated by the introduction of plastic stick heads in the 1970s by Baltimore-based STX. This innovation reduced the weight and cost of the lacrosse stick. It also allowed for faster passes and game play than traditional wooden sticks.
Up until the 1930s, all lacrosse was played on large fields outdoors. The owners of Canadian hockey arenas invented a reduced version of the game, called box lacrosse, as a means to make more profit from their arena investments. In a relatively short period of time, box lacrosse became the dominant form of the sport in Canada, in part due to the severe winter weather that limited outdoor play. More recently, field lacrosse has witnessed a revival in Canada as the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA) began operating a collegiate men's league in 1985. It now includes 12 varsity teams. In 1994 Canada declared lacrosse its National Summer Sport with the passage of the National Sports Act (Bill C-212).
In 1987 a men's professional box lacrosse league was started, called the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. This league changed its name to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, then later to the National Lacrosse League and grew to encompass men's lacrosse clubs in twelve cities throughout the United States and Canada. In the summer of 2001, a men's professional field lacrosse league, known as Major League Lacrosse (MLL), was inaugurated. Initially starting with six teams, the MLL has grown to a total of ten clubs located in major metropolitan areas in the United States. On July 4, 2008, Major League Lacrosse set the professional lacrosse attendance record: 20,116 fans attended a game at Invesco Field in Denver, USA, and a 2011 College Lacrosse game will be scheduled in Denver for the first time.