Editorial: New penalties should stem aggression in girls lacrosse

Lacrosse fans in Maryland, which is a hotbed for the sport, should be pleased to see the game they love growing in popularity, both here and nationally.

With the surge in popularity, however, has come an increase in aggressive play that has boosted the risk of injury in the fast-moving sport.

That's why we welcome a new "get-tough" policy that translates as new rules in girls high school lacrosse. Teams that have members that commit certain above-the-shoulders fouls on the field will pay a stiffer penalty.

Fouls for rough, reckless checking, slashing or dangerous follow-throughs while making a shot will result in a yellow card that will force the offender to leave the game for two minutes without a replacement. Previously, carded players were also benched, but penalized teams were allowed to play at even strength below the restraining lines.

In other words, a team guilty of a foul will have to play a shorthanded on the entire field.

Any player given two yellow cards will sit out the remainder of the game and a red card — given for flagrant violations — will mean suspension from the following game as well.

A team that accumulates four yellow cards in one game will have to play shorthanded for the rest of the game and each successive card will force an additional player off the field.

"That's a clear message to players and coaches: 'Clean it up,'" said Bill Franke, a veteran lacrosse official.

The new rules will not eliminate fouls but should decrease them. Meanwhile, it is likely that coaches will begin developing new strategies, both to cope with playing short a player and to take the best advantage of having a one-player edge over a penalized team.

High school girls lacrosse has had to adjust to changes in the past decade, such as hard boundaries, protective eyewear and restraining lines.

There's one thing many of those in girls high school lacrosse want to avoid — going to helmets.

Helmets open the door wider to smash-mouth play. The boys wear helmets in the game, but the girls wear only goggles.

We hope these new penalties result in a safer game. They may even produce a more exciting one, as teams rely more on speed and skill and less on in-your-face aggression.

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