An Adventure in Lacrosse Product History
By Chris Ely
On one wall of the National Lacrosse Museum in Baltimore there is a collection of five lacrosse sticks: a wood and gut model circa 1884 that looks like something you could use to dip for fish, a wooden double walled variety invented by Bobby Poole in 1937, a tree trunk sized Bacharach Rasin defense stick used in 1950, an Amisco Adiprene synthetic and wood prototype invented in 1970 and a 1998 Brine Edge clear plastic modern stick. This arrangement of five sticks represents the chronological progression of the "crosse". To my great delight, I may have inadvertently come across an old fossil that could upset this time-line of the lacrosse stick.
The National Lacrosse Museum
I have devoted much of my time the last three months to putting the final touches on a house I recently put on the market. Anyone who has gone through this task can probably recall the critical decisions that had to be made. Which treasures and keepsakes should be held onto and which should be trashed. It is interesting to note that the same rocking chairs that today's all-world lacrosse players will find themselves relaxing in some day are nearly impossible to unload on a consignment shop. It seems they are either too large to fit the tight confines of a little second hand store or not popular sellers, according to three establishments that turned down the opportunity to resell my JFK style maple rocker. A couple of my more eclectic objects were advertised in The PennySaver Magazine. Feel free to call about that Sierra Nordic Track that made it into last week's edition. It's "like new".
Making decisions on one's material accumulation is akin to taking inventory on one's life. Throughout our existence we gather things and keep them, sometimes well past their usefulness. We are hoarders by nature. Each keepsake I evaluated carried with it some memory. But one relic I came across took me back 33 years to my senior year at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. This find ultimately sent me off on a search to find its rightful place - in my personal history and in the more global history of lacrosse.
The item had been shuffled back to a dark, dusty, cobweb filled corner of the furnace room. If I had not thought to take a flashlight down into that dusky dungeon, I may have left it behind. Since the new homeowners are not "lacrosse people", they would likely have chucked it in the trash and then a small chapter in the olden times of the game would have been lost forever. But such was not to be.
An Amisco Youth Stick
Once I came across the artifact, it occurred to me that I had perhaps discovered a missing link in the evolutionary chain of lacrosse sticks. What I found was a lacrosse stick that I purchased, likely from some equipment rep, prior to the 1970 season. You see, that stick I found hidden away in the deep recesses of the furnace room is an old style shepherd's crook model-the only style available in that era. But there was one major difference with this stick- where our sticks were made from wood, the stick I found is made entirely of fiberglass!
One of the last commercial Proprietors
of old wood - Wes Patterson
But this advance in the game was short lived. As anyone close to the game knows, the late 60's-early 70's witnessed a lacrosse equipment revolution like none that had ever preceded it. The Iroquois all-wood, hand-prepared lacrosse stick, a variation of the very first crosse used in mock warfare hundreds of years ago, went the way of the dinosaur. Centuries of tradition were shoved out with the introduction of the modern synthetic urethane head we use today.
STX invented the plastic head stick in 1964 but did not manufacture it until 1970. The new model introduced a stick with a lightweight, symmetrical, perfectly balanced triangular urethane plastic head with leather shooting strings and a synthetic cord pocket. The new head assembly was attached to a wooden pole; aluminum and other metal composite poles were developed later.
STX changed the game in 1970
Abruptly, the days of heading to Bacharach Rasin Sporting Goods or Simon Harris for the annual ritual of picking out a perfect lacrosse stick were gone forever. In those days you could spend hours trying to find that one stick that had impeccable wood grain and a sturdy handle. The stick could not be too heavy, so you could get off a shot with the speed of light. Conversely, it could not be too light either. Back in the day, we midfielders played defense too and could hardly afford to crack a stick over some opponent's shoulder pad and be forced to lay out $25.00 for an in-season replacement. By far, the most critical feature was balance. The stick simply had to be perfectly balanced into the crook of your hand, as if the stick was, in and of itself, an extension of your body. You could not pass, catch or shoot with an unbalanced stick. The stickmaking craft was impressive but so was the art of picking one.
73 is the model, not the year
The introduction of the plastic stick took all the guesswork and research out of the equation. Symmetry was now king. Every stick was the same length, width, weight and balance. Furthermore, once manufacturers figured out how to make a more pliable synthetic head, they were darned near unbreakable too.
Early Brine plastic
Hence, the old Iroquois stick became extinct and the new plastic models heralded the new era of lacrosse. According to the Lacrosse Museum, every goal and assist scored in the NCAA championship game in 1971 was accomplished using wooden sticks. Every goal and assist scored in the 1972 championship came from the new STX plastic stick. The conversion took place that quickly.
But hold on! The break from ancient to modern was not that clear cut- as my discovery soon made obvious.
In what may have been the first attempt to marry the Iroquois model with synthetics, a company called Lacrosse International out of South El Monte, California marketed something called the Quick-Stick, the fiberglass model that I bought in 1970. I decided to take my discovery and head to US Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum to find out if I had stumbled upon "The Missing Link".
A hollow foam-filled center
After I showed my Quick Stick to Josh Christian, the chief archivist at the Lacrosse Museum, he said he had come across one or two fiberglass lacrosse sticks but had never seen one in as nearly a perfect condition as mine. The green Quick Stick label is still affixed on the "wood wall". We believe that Lacrosse International's idea was to make a piece of equipment that was less likely to break than the wooden version. They copied the Iroquois style, made a mold to pour the fiberglass into and manufactured a stick that looked just like the wooden model but was heavier and, ostensibly, unbreakable. I think the Quick Stick is the bridge between wood and plastic, old style and modern, if you will. Before the demise of the wooden stick and the merchandising of the modern plastic stick, there was, thanks to Lacrosse International, the fiberglass stick. I am told that on the opposite coast, the lacrosse coast at the time, a young Syracuse Art School graduate submitted a similar concept to Dupont but was rejected due to the relatively tiny market for the product. Roy Simmons, Jr. gave up that dream and began coaching under his dad. He would eventually lead the Syracuse Orangemen to 7 national championships, advancing the game in many other ways.
It was once said that one man's trash is another man's treasure. US Lacrosse Executive Director Steve Stenersen, who had never seen a stick like my fiberglass Quick Stick, pointed to a spot on that wall that displays lacrosse sticks from the late 1880's to the late 1990's and said that perhaps my old model could soon be displayed with the others.
Looks like wood, but it's all fiberglass
Back in that old grimy furnace room of mine was an artifact that could have made its way to the waste disposal site but instead may join the historical circle that represents the chronological progression of the "crosse". How ironic this story turned out to be. An ancient, outdated and forlorn lacrosse stick, cast into a corner and all but forgotten, proved far more desirable than a vintage rocking chair.
INTERESTING IMAGES FROM CANADIAN AND U.S. PATENTS
A detachable head in 1932
The 1970 STX patent
A 1972 Canadian try at plastic
and another 1972 plastic head
December 16, 2003
More by Chris Ely
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Ely on Team USA's Bob Shriver August 1, 2003
ESPN Gets Final Game Right June 26, 2003
Chris Ely Joins E-Lacrosse June, 2003