As parents of five, we were always looking for ways to keep our children active, making friends and developing key life skills close to home. We found success with different activities and sports, but then we discovered lacrosse.
The oldest sport in North America, the Onondaga of upstate New York believed “The Creator gave us many things here on earth; one of which is the game we call lacrosse.” The tribe also considered it sacred, believing it to have healing power, and to be played for the Creator’s enjoyment.
Apart from its recreational function, lacrosse traditionally played a more serious role in Native American culture. Its origins are rooted in legend, and the game continues to be used for curative purposes and surrounded with ceremony. Since women were and are respected for providing life and are to protect this gift, they did not play back then, but do now.
Instead of a current 10-player team playing a one-hour game; originally there was no set number of players. Rumor has it there were 100 to 1,000 players on a field nearly two miles long. The game was played from sunup to sundown for two to three days and included players of all ages from many villages. Talk about a family reunion!
How can I provide my child with a healthy life developing activity that can help them with their future?
Here at home in Augusta County, which is the second largest in the state, including Staunton and Waynesboro, there’s a combined 18,000 youth. Thirty minutes to the north is JMU and east is UVa, which has National Championship men’s and women's lacrosse programs. Ironically, this year’s men’s Division 1 National Champion Cavalier coach, Lars Tiffany, grew up playing lacrosse with the Onondaga in upstate New York. But here in the Valley, no school offered it, no club existed and the box sporting goods store didn’t sell equipment.
What began with five families three years ago here in the Valley, has grown into the Augusta County Lacrosse Club; Wolves acv. It provides area children an opportunity to play the oldest, and one of the fastest growing sports in America. Providing equipment free of charge, players only need to pay the registration fee for the season and are off and running.
Margret Mead was correct: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I discovered its popularity has exploded at the collegiate level — in fact, the most played sport in college, if played in high school, is lacrosse.
Beyond that, we can look at pro sports, too. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a huge fan and supporter of youth lacrosse; football icon Jim Brown played at Syracuse and is in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame; Super Bowl champion Chris Hogan played lacrosse at Penn State University for four years; Seattle Seahawks running back Alex Collins played high school lacrosse; and dozens of other NFL players also enhanced their athleticism playing the Onondaga game.
Considered one of the best cross-training sports — using up-tempo cardio, split-second hand-eye coordination and fast-moving, critical-thinking game IQ processing — it’s easy to see why the Iroquois had this as a regular activity.
Long considered an exclusively affluent sport, it’s now popping up in urban, suburban and rural towns across the country, providing players the same amazing benefits as the Ivy League teams.
No sport has grown faster at the NCAA level over the past decade than lacrosse and club lacrosse is growing just as fast. A record 186 teams played NCAA Division I lacrosse (71 men's, 115 women's) in 2018, with nearly 900 varsity programs across all three NCAA divisions. New varsity programs are popping up in states like Arkansas, Colorado, Mississippi, and others.
The result of the expansion means that nearly 30,000 players are playing collegiate lacrosse each year.
If your child is athletic, perhaps this Native American sport might help them in their future educational pursuits.
The world will take notice again. In 1932, the Olympics showcased lacrosse in Los Angeles featuring an exhibition match between the Onondagas and a team from Johns Hopkins. Now, 96 years later at the 2028 games, once again in Los Angeles, a full array of teams from around the world competing.
During a time when certain opportunities of privilege are beyond the reach of many, lacrosse has opened a pathway of participation, and returned to the common tribes across the country, regardless of location, offering all participants the same life-enhancing benefits the Onondaga respect and preserve to this day.
When you get a minute check out your local youth lacrosse program. It could be something that helps your child hone their life skills, become part of the oldest athletic brotherhood in North America, or even go to college.
Nicholas Mihailoff has worked in K-12 and collegiate educational settings for 25 years. Currently, he works in Institutional Advancement for Fishburne. He writes a monthly lacrosse column for The News Virginian.