Lacrosse is more than a sport in Maryland; it is a critical part of our culture and our very spirit. Marylanders are leaders in the world of lacrosse, and as a "Maryland lacrosse mom" I am a proud member of that culture. When my son was 3 months old, he received his first miniature lacrosse stick for Christmas from my brother. My daughter toddled on the sidelines of Rec Council lacrosse games and camps until she was old enough to ask to play herself. Today, I find myself driving from practice to practice, often with a car full of happy kids, and I wouldn't trade my family's commitment to the sport for anything. We have made wonderful memories with friends and family through this game. Despite the recent criticism of the game and its surrounding culture, it is OK to take pride in lacrosse.

As we have recently lived through the tragedy of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love's death — and the murder conviction of her on-and-off boyfriend, also a lacrosse player — I have read much of late about scandal in the sport. I am reminded of the lapses of judgment on several occasions by people involved in lacrosse that made national news. Yes, there were bad decisions that were made by some. Years ago, I shook my head at the lapse of judgment of members of a local private school team, when one of them showed some others a sexually explicit video he had made. I endured the smear of the Duke lacrosse team, whose members were falsely accused of sexual assault. Now we are discussing at my dinner table the tragedy of the Love case. Because of this, my husband and I have discussed important values and relational standards with my children, learning from the hard lessons of these athletes that have been made so public.

Yes, tragedy can result when people make bad decisions. Yet, I see similarities among many sports on elite levels: assault in Olympic ice skating, steroids in baseball, drugs and sex in football, and bad behavior in swimming, track and field. This is the dark side of human competition, of lack of balance and loss of perspective. But please, stop blaming lacrosse for these human woes.

It's true that lacrosse is often passed down from generation to generation (much like football, swimming, golf, or baseball). Perhaps this is part of the soul of the sport: The enthusiasm and passion is carried on. This passion is contagious past the generational bound, though. The sport is growing like crazy. Teams are popping up throughout our great nation. We have a family friend who recently took a position as head coach at Missouri, and we are seeing teams from all over the country entering tournaments. Our kids are meeting folks from around our nation, and these teams are sharing similar values of pride, ethics and friendship. (And when they hear they are playing a Maryland team, they know they are playing the best in the nation, sorry Long Island!) They are growing relationships from a grounding of healthy lifestyle, teamwork and friendly competition — values we can all use and that certainly mean all the more in a world of harsh politics, global uncertainly and backbreaking bills.

Lacrosse fosters community as we connect and renew. Kids look forward to spring lacrosse to see friends who go to different schools from different communities. They will play together and against each other, and they will shake hands after their games and hang out. This summer, many will play on club teams being taught by terrific coaches who teach sound and worthy values. They will tailgate at tournaments, eating hot dogs and burgers and drinking Gatorade. As parents, we pack coolers full and heave our tailgate tents to the tournaments. We celebrate our kids' victories and achievements on the field, and we sink in their losses and missteps. We, too, see old friends and make new ones. A similar picture can be seen in sports oriented families across the nation. This scenario is in stark contrast to the picture of lacrosse that has been painted of late.

All human interaction has the potential to bring joy or sadness, laughter or anger, pride or humiliation. I choose to take the joy, laughter and pride out of our very Maryland sport, as I know countless others do. As we start this season of lacrosse, my family has already dedicated considerable time to the sport. At tryouts a week ago, my daughter hugged a friend from last year's team she hasn't seen all year. My son, in his last year of recreation council eligibility before going off to high school, is playing with boys he has played with since he was 5, many of them dear friends. I also caught up with friends (some of whom volunteer their time to coach); we sat for hours watching our children run and play. None of us were watching TV or sitting in front of our laptops. We were outside, breathing fresh air and enjoying our families and our community.

Perhaps our son's recreation council coach said it best when he told the kids: "Be good to your family, study hard, work hard around the house, practice your stick skills, and be the best you can be — I expect the best from you, and you should too."

Carol R. Norton teaches at Towson University and lives in Timonium. Her email is carol.norton64@gmail.com.