High school lacrosse is a competitive, exhilarating, fast-paced and mentally-challenging sport. A good player is likely to have all the attributes one would expect to find in a young athlete.
A good player headed to college is also likely to be a beneficiary of what amounts to affirmative action for white people.
Lacrosse is played by ten players: a goalkeeper, three defensemen, three midfielders and three attackmen. Players throw and catch a hard rubber ball a little smaller than a baseball using a small triangular mesh basket attached to a long-handled stick. The object of the game is to shoot the ball into the goals which are located at either end of a rectangle grass area about the size of a football field. The team scoring the most goals wins.
It is a sport which, like football, requires speed, aggressiveness and discipline. It is a sport for which the college championship is highly-prized trophy for some of the top universities in the nation. Princeton won the title in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The University of Virginia won in 1999.
And it is a sport played predominately by kids in prep school and affluent white suburbs. On those three Princeton teams, there were no black players. There was one on the Virginia championship team last year, although most of their recent rosters claimed a few more than that, including some All-Americans.
While much is made of the academic accommodations afforded to talented black athletes in high-profile sports such as basketball and football, much of the same standard-relaxing goes on in college sports which are followed less-closely by the public. Granted, most of these adjustments are not as egregious as some of the stories from college basketball, where a point guard barely able to read and write can gain admission based on his mastery of the crossover dribble.
And Ivy League schools donít give athletic scholarships. But if youíre the parent of a boy entering his teenage years, you can afford the tuition and high SAT scores donít run in your family, start sending for those applications to summer lacrosse camp. Princeton and Dartmouth might come a-calling.
Princetonís summer lacrosse camp will run you $425 for five days. It might be a better investment than those Stanley Kaplan SAT courses you were thinking about.
To be sure, it is unfair to single out lacrosse as the game most likely to advance the cause of institutional racism. While most of the publicity goes to basketball and football, most college sports in all divisions are not the ones you watch on TV and tend to be played predominately by whites. Harvard has a top swimming program. Trinity College excels in squash. Go out and watch one of the local rowing teams on the Connecticut River. Name a black golfer other than Tiger Woods.
But it is not unfair to ask universities, which like to hold themselves out as in the vanguard of racial progress, why they make academic allowances for sports which are not accessible to all. There arenít a whole lot of public tennis courts in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Hartfordís North End. And even fewer country clubs.
Thereís nothing wrong with institutions of higher learning seeking to diversify their student bodies with a wide representation of talents. Itís healthier to include athletes, concert violinists, artists and actors than to have a campus full of nothing but brainiacs with 4.0 GPAís and high test scores. Most high schools have a drama club, a football field, a baseball diamond and a music program, but not too many of those in the inner cities have access to a golf course or a squash court. And even if for cultural and not economic reasons, most urban schools donít have lacrosse programs, either.
Football great Jim Brown played lacrosse at Syracuse as well. Those who saw him in action with a lacrosse stick say he was almost unstoppable. Of course, Jim Brown would be unstoppable at tiddly-winks, but one can only wonder how much the competitive level of the game could be raised, both on and off the field, if African-Americans were represented to the extent they are in more popular sports.
There are people trying to extend lacrosse into areas where it is not widely played. There are initiatives in such places as Baltimore and Boston to foster the development of players in the inner city.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, there is a program called the Lacrosse and Academics Team which serves 30 minority kids in six middle schools. One practice a week is devoted to academic tutoring. Anger management skills are also taught. It is a legal move in lacrosse to use your stick to hit the other playerís stick or gloved hand, so tempers often flare. While the program has had some success over the last ten years, none of its participants have gone on to play the game on a Division 1 college level.
All recreational activities have and will continue to have cultural and economic biases. If university admissions were connected to knowing all the lyrics from ĎN Sync songs, a black kid would never go to college. If they were tied to a political belief that Al Sharpton is a good guy, no white kid would have a chance.
But if youíre flipping through your 100-odd cable channels and see a college basketball game on one and a lacrosse game on another, you canít help but notice the differences in the teamsí racial compositions. It is worthwhile to ask why this is so, and to what extent our nationís universities are perpetuating it.
May 4, 2000