STORY BY DAVID SANDS
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY EQUINOX LACROSSE ASSOCIATION
Every year the first weekend after Memorial Day, thousands of boys and girls 8 to 16 can be seen playing lacrosse at Manchester’s Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park as part of The Equinox Lacrosse Shootout. Since its inception 10 years ago, the event has grown from a gathering of 5 teams to close to 100. In 2019, there were more than 4,000 players and supporters representing 92 teams from 5 different states. This is the largest single event that is held at the Rec Park each year.
Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the United States. Why? Because it’s fun, fast, played by both boys and girls, and requires minimal equipment. Traditionally the sport was played in areas such as Baltimore, Long Island, and Syracuse (as well as in prep schools and the Ivy League), Today, it’s played coast to coast at most colleges, in small towns, and urban inner cities. Internationally, lacrosse is played in more than 60 countries worldwide. It is very popular in Japan and is the national sport of Canada (no, it’s not hockey!).
Lacrosse is also one of the oldest team sports in North America. There is evidence that a version of the game originated centuries ago around the Great Lakes and along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. The Iroquois Nation were its creators and it became known as stickball. They played with a curved stick with a basket (woven of gut) on one end, similar in shape to a bishop’s crosier.
The first European mention of stickball was by a French Jesuit missionary in 1637. It was he who named the game “La Crosse,” for he felt that it did, in fact, look like a bishop’s crosier.
For the Iroquois, lacrosse was played as a way of teaching respect and spirituality for nature. The same is true today. Back then, it was organized by the medicine men of the village. Now, it feels like we coaches often step in as the spiritual medicine men.
“Do you all know Harry Potter?” I ask my young players. When Harry picked out his wand, it spoke to him. The same was true when as a freshman at Syracuse University I picked out my first college stick. The Native Americans would come to campus in a pickup truck loaded with handmade sticks from the Onondaga Reservation, just south of Syracuse. Each of us players would try out multiple sticks before choosing the one that felt the best—the one that “spoke” to us. There was a spirit in the sticks that gave us strength and courage.
In Manchester, our sport has grown from a few players in 1992 to more than 150 local players today. The outdoor season starts in early April (after the snow has left the fields) and lasts until mid-June. The Equinox Shootout held its first invitational tournament at the Hildene meadows in 2004 and in 2010, the organizer, Equinox Lacrosse Association, moved to its permanent home at the Rec Park. The association now fields boys and girls teams ranging from first grade to eighth grade and hosts players from the surrounding area. Passion for the sport in this area has meant that dedicated players have gone on to win multiple state championships with their high school teams and produced High School All-American players, as well as standout college lacrosse athletes.
At Equinox Lacrosse, we respect the game’s heritage with the slogan, “Honor the Game.” We celebrate the spiritual side of our founders as well as our coaches, administrators, and volunteers who love the sport. We “honor the game” by showing respect for our teammates, coaches, opposing players, and referees. That respect transcends the game on and off the field. We teach more than stick skills. We teach life skills.