on Sports


Silliman on Sports
By Stan Silliman

     My friend Mike “and I have the welts to prove it” Zyk, played lacrosse goalie at a military prep school and from time to time suggests we write a piece on the game. “You need to write about it, Silliman. It’s a fast exciting game.” I tell him I’ll consider it if he promises never to show me his welts again. Fresh welts are one thing, petrified welts are another. I think, when he played, the Mohicans were still competitive. “When I played, we used wooden sticks and string netting. Not that titanium and nylon stuff they use now. If you played goalie, you expect to be hit in the face.” And Mike has the one eye to prove it. “It’s debilitating. It wears you out. But it was fun,” Mike says. Debilitating, I’ll say, and Mike walks with a cane to prove it. In his day, loin clothes were in vogue, although Mike says the goalie wore padded loin clothes. Don’t ask how he proves this.
     “It’s a great game,” Mike says. “They’ve got Major League lacrosse. There is strategy, pick and rolls, and balls coming at you at 140 miles per hour. More kids should play it.” Yeah, I can see that. Football is a wussy game compared to lacrosse. Football players wear pads. We need more of our young to get pelted with little rock hard missles and to know the sting of a well swung lacrosse stick.  Yeah, I can see that. If we had more kids playing lacrosse, corporal punishment would seem like child’s play. “Come in, Sonny, and get your whipping” and the kid is thinking Dad’s only using hands and belts? Heck, I’m a lacrosse player and I’m used to few bone fractures.   If we had more guys toughened up on lacrosse, we could march into Singapore and take all the caning they’ll dish out. 

    Mike insists lacrosse is the earliest North American game, played by the natives before Columbus ever set foot. It had different Indian names like Baggattaway, in Algonguin, or they bump hips, and Tewaarathon, meaning little brother of war in Iroquois. The Bungi Tribe in Manitoba called it stick it to me and if you believe that they’ve got a bridge to sell you. The bridge does come with it’s own elastic ropes for jumping purposes. The natives appeared not to have a Geronimo Naismith setting rules and guiding the games. In the Indian games, sometimes one thousand players would be in the game at the same time. At times the goal would be a single tree or a large rock and it wasn’t unusual to find tribes warring over lacrosse interpretations. The Creek-Choctaw War of 1790 was said to be started over a disagreement on ball size. When the white men came and brought their fire water and fire sticks, they asked the natives what do they have to trade. The Iroquois huddled for a while and muttered “Hmmm, what do we have that kills off thousands of our people each year and if we traded it to the white eyes they would quit coming to our land? How about our game, Baggattaway?” They taught the game to the whites despite the objections of Edward G. Running Bear who said “If we give over our game they will just add rules and then give it some Frenchified name. And then where would our one game be now? Where would it be now?” Despite Edward G’s impassioned objections, fire water in exchange for a game where guys kill themselves seemed like a good trade to the Iroquois.

    “Sports Illustrated says lacrosse is our fastest growing team sport,” Mike says. Hey, for a game that’s been around 400 years, I question that statement.  Football legend, Jim Brown, was an All-American lacrosse player, at powerhouse Syracuse. Syracuse is like basketball’s UCLA, Duke and North Carolina wrapped into one going to twenty-two straight NCAA final fours. The Cuse won three straight championships in 1988-91 when they had the famous Gait brothers – Paul and Gary. The Gaits were so brilliant, several amazing moves were named after them, like the Air-Gait and the Water-Gait. When both brothers rushed the goalie at the same time so the goalie couldn’t see which brother’s netting had the ball, it was called the Flood-Gait.

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