Lacrosse, (French: “the crosier”) competitive sport, modern version of the North American Indian game of baggataway, in which two teams of players use long-handled, racketlike implements (crosses) to catch, carry, or throw a ball down the field or into the opponents’ goal. The goal is defined by uprights and a crossbar framing a loose net.
The distinctive feature of the game is the crosse (lacrosse stick), the implement used by the players to carry, catch, and pass the ball. The crosse is a staff that is sharply bent at the top to form a hook from the end of which a thong is drawn and fastened to the shaft about 2 or 3 feet (0.6 or 0.9 metre) from the end of the handle, forming an oval triangle that is woven with a loose network of leather, nylon, or gut to form the pocket with which the ball is handled.
Lacrosse was played by the Six Nations of the Iroquois (in what became upper New York state and lower Ontario) long before Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. The sport was then much rougher than it is today. Among some tribes as many as a thousand players took part on each side, goals were miles apart, and a game could last as long as three days. Each player tried to disable as many opponents as possible with the stick he carried and afterward concentrate on scoring a goal. The Cherokee called their version of the game “little brother of war.” Because of the endurance required and the injuries that had to be borne with fortitude it was considered excellent training for combat. Among many tribes the game was as much a mystic ceremony as a sport and was preceded by complex rituals and a solemn dance. In some areas men and women played together, and in other areas women had their own version of the game. Indians on government reservations in the United States and Canada still field strong teams.