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History of Lacrosse - In 1636, Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf noted an indigenous stickball game being played by Native Americans in the area of the Great Lakes. In Native American culture the game was often more than recreational—it was used to settle disputes and many times ended in battles. Tribes would often use the same rituals before a game that they used prior to warfare. Lacrosse was the name given to the game by early French settlers, who fell back on a generic term for a game that used a curved stick. Over time three distinct versions of the game came to be known to European settlers in the Americas: the Great Lakes version, the Southeastern version and the Iroquoian, in what is now upstate New York and Canada. Today's lacrosse comes from a compilation of all three versions. Dr. William George Beers finalized the first set of rules for the game in 1867. New York University, the first U.S. school to sponsor a team on the collegiate level, started its squad in 1876. The first NCAA men's championship was played in 1972, and the first women's championship in 1982. Source: U.S. Lacrosse
Thirty colleges and universities added lacrosse, the fastest growing sport in the nation, in 2012. An additional 20 have committed to adding it in 2013, with more on the way.
Albright College's new men's and women's lacrosse teams take the field this March, thanks to a $1 million gift from trustee Jack Roessner III '61, who noted that his goal was to help the College fulfill a long-range strategic goal.
"The kids out there today don't want to go to a school where lacrosse isn't played, and I felt we were missing a segment of a potential market by not having lacrosse," Roessner said.
While the sport is growing in popularity at the collegiate level, it's simply exploding among high schoolers. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association added lacrosse as an official high school sport in the 2008-2009 school year, and since then the biggest issue has been training enough officials to keep up with the increased demand.
"Adding the teams was a strategic decision by the College," said Greg Eichhorn, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admission. "The decision was reached because the sport is something that has emerged in popularity in both our primary recruiting area as well as in areas from where we currently do not attract students."
Albright is now able to recruit in geographic areas where the sport is popular, such as Baltimore and upstate New York. Opening new recruitment areas is critical to maintaining the College's enrollment as the number of high school graduates is projected to drop over the next decade.
The U.S. Department of Education has warned that decreases in birth rates will result in a drop in the 18-year-old population by an average of 3 percent through 2021. States such as Pennsylvania may see a drop in excess of 5 percent. Lacrosse has existed as a club sport at Albright since 1993, but with limited or no funding. Eichhorn served as the first coach. "We had some excellent years with the team and were nationally ranked at one point," he said. "Funding was our biggest obstacle."
Recognizing the need for adequate funding to launch a new intercollegiate athletic program, Roessner followed up his $1 million gift with an additional $4 million, part of which was used to build a new athletic field near Albright Woods Apartments.
Andrew Brehm '10 played club lacrosse his entire four years at Albright and is ready to watch the teams play at the varsity level. "I am very grateful for the donation by Mr. Roessner," he said. "Lacrosse is a popular spectator sport much like football in the fall. I'm sure this will bring back alumni to support the teams and the school as a whole."
Starting a varsity team at Albright was the task handed to Jennifer Willis and Jake Plunket, head coaches for the women's and men's teams, respectively.
"The attraction to this job was the fact that I would be building a legacy," Willis said. Plunket agreed, saying, "This is a clean slate, and we get to establish a program that could go on to greatness."
Plunket comes to Albright after leading Syracuse University to two national championships. Willis was one of the most decorated players in the history of SUNY Cortland. The two have been recruiting since they joined the College in 2010.
"Recruiting was tough at first," said Plunket, "but showing Albright's excellent facilities and the alumni support for athletics, like that of Mr. Roessner, helped me to bring in a very talented team."
Tyler Ott '15, a criminology major from Howell, N.J., began playing lacrosse in eighth grade. "When I started playing lacrosse I was hooked instantly," he said. "In lacrosse you are constantly moving, and there's never a dull moment."
Ott would not have come to Albright without a lacrosse program. "I was looking to be recruited to play at the time of my college search," he said. "After speaking with Coach (Plunket) and visiting campus, I knew coming to Albright would be a great opportunity for me to excel as a player and be a part of the school's history as the first lacrosse team."
Joey Szatmary '15 is a criminal psychology major from Warrington, Pa. He wanted to be a part of history too, and wouldn't have chosen Albright had there been no lacrosse teams. "I have been playing lacrosse since I was in middle school," he explained. "I had to go to a school that had lacrosse."
Albright's size is nice fit for Szatmary as well. "I learn best in smaller classes where I can bond with my professors and peers. It was important to me to be able to challenge myself and also have help when I need it. Albright suits me well."
Not all students who play lacrosse were drawn to Albright by the sport. Kaitlin Kimmel '13 is an environmental science and math major from Wyomissing, Pa. She played lacrosse in high school but gave up playing to transfer to Albright her sophomore year of college.
"I came to Albright for its academic programs," she said. "But when I heard Albright was getting a lacrosse program, I knew right away I wanted to be a part of the team. Something was missing from my college experience, and it was lacrosse."
As Albright heads into the spring semester the lacrosse teams are poised to become powerhouses in the Middle Atlantic Conference; however, no matter what the teams' records their addition is a win for Albright.
Home Openers: March 3, 2012, Gene Shirk Stadium - 1 p.m., Men vs Penn State Abington; 3:30 p.m., Women vs Immaculata University
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