Pardon our puffed up chests, but Maryland is going to be well represented in the NCAA lacrosse championship contests this weekend. The men's team from the University of Maryland has surprised the experts by making it to the Final Four for Division I teams, and the Salisbury University team will be vying with the Tufts University team for the Division III title. Fittingly, these contests will be played in the heart of lacrosse country, at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Meanwhile, up in Stony Brook New York, the women from the University of Maryland will be defending their title as the best female Division I college team in the nation.
Traditionally Marylanders have been especially proud of our crabs, our tomatoes, and our lacrosse teams. Yet we have had a few setbacks. We have had to supplement the native crab catch with crustaceans imported from the Carolinas and points more distant. Our Eastern Shore canneries that once snatched up the region's prized tomatoes have vanished, leaving the quest for thin-skinned perfection to small farmers and backyard gardeners. Even the college lacrosse championship, as big a part of Memorial Day weekend as the arrival of the first soft crabs, has periodically fled the state, showing up in stadiums in Philadelphia and Boston.
But this year all is right within The Free State. Not only will the men's college lacrosse champions be crowned on Russell Street, there is a chance that the champs will be home-grown. For the first time in five years, the men from the University of Maryland have advanced to the semifinals by defeating the favored Syracuse team in overtime. The Terps play Duke on Saturday. The victor will square off against the winner of the Virginia and Denver game on Memorial Day. The last time Maryland won the title was 1975.
Even if it's been a while for the state squad, the region has been the dominant force in the sport. Since 1971 eight teams, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Princeton, North Carolina, Virginia, Cornell, Duke and Maryland, all in the Eastern Time Zone, have won the Division I title.
A glance at the rosters of this year's Division I finalists finds they are stocked with players schooled in Maryland. Another rival breeding ground, New York, also contributes many stick carriers. But the geographic shocker is that there is a team in the lacrosse hierarchy, the University of Denver, that is located west of the Mississippi River. Moreover Denver also has players who have never suited up for East Coast high schools, the traditional lacrosse prep powerhouses. Some kids, can you believe it, seem to have learned to play lacrosse in Louisville, St. Louis and Littleton, Colorado.
This is evidence that lacrosse, a game first played by Native Americans and regarded in Maryland as a provincial treasure, is spreading nationwide. It is one of the fastest growing team sports in the United States in part because it started with a small base but also because it is increasingly popular. In the past 10 years youth participation has grown by 138 percent to some 300,000 players.
While we appreciate that the rest of nation is discovering the pleasure of a sport that Marylanders have enjoyed for years, we would just as soon keep the trophies and the bragging rights here at home, where they belong.