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Lacrosse was invented by Native North Americans. Its name was dehuntshigwa'es in Onondaga ("men hit a rounded object"), da-nah-wah'uwsdi in Eastern Cherokee ("little war"), Tewaarathon in Mohawk Langauge ("little brother of war"), and baaga`adowe in Ojibwe("knocking about of balls").[7]

The game was named lacrosse by early French lookers. It is widely and inaccurately believed that the name stems from the French term "crosse", for the shepherd's crooklike crosier carried by bishops as a symbol of office. Jesuit missionary Jean-de-Brébeuf noted the resemblance between the crosier and the shape of the racket stick in the Relation des Jésuites around 1640. In fact, the term crosse is a general word in French for any type of bat or stick used in a ball game. The name lacrosse is simply a reflection of this term, and perhaps a shorthand for a phrase such as "le jeu de la crosse" (the game of the stick).[8]

Lacrosse traditionally had many different purposes. Conflict resolution and training of young warriors was only one part of the game. Games could be played on a pitch over a mile wide and sometimes lasted for days. Often players were gravely injured or even killed. Early balls were made out of the heads of the enemy, deerskin, clay, stone, and sometimes wood. Lacrosse has played a significant role in the community and religious life of tribes across the continent for many years. Early lacrosse was characterized by deep spiritual involvement, befitting the spirit of combat in which it was undertaken. Those who took part did so in the role of warriors, with the goal of bringing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes, and as a religious ritual.[9] The game was said to be played "for the pleasure of the Creator."


In the United States, the sport enjoys its greatest popularity along the east coast, especially in Maryland (where it became the state's official team sport in 2004), Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the New England states. However, its popularity has started to spread west to Colorado, California, Texas, and the Midwest, spurred by the sport's increasing visibility in the media, the growth of college and high school programs, and youth or "pee wee" leagues throughout the country. Currently, there are only two NCAA Division I men's lacrosse teams west of the Mississippi River: Air Force and the University of Denver. The growth of lacrosse was also facilitated by the introduction of plastic heads invented by Baltimore-based stick maker STX in the 1970s. This innovation reduced the weight and cost of the stick, and allowed for faster passes and gameplay.

At the collegiate level, there are currently 57 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse teams, 32 Division II men's lacrosse teams, and 131 Division III men's lacrosse teams. There are also currently 83 Division I women's lacrosse teams, 37 Division II women's lacrosse Teams, and 154 Division III women's lacrosse teams. Additionally, almost 200 collegiate men's club teams compete at the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association level, including most major universities in the United States.