It’s six p.m. on Memorial Day and the city air is hot and still. After nearly two hours of watching back-and-forth goals and sweat-drenched celebrations at the NCAA Lacrosse Championship, the masses of red and orange clad fans filter out of M&T Stadium and back onto the streets of Baltimore. Two boys, no older than ten, wear Terps jerseys and grip lacrosse sticks roughly as long as they are tall. They chatter excitedly to each other, recounting each “sweet” goal and seriously deliberating which “sick” moves they should employ against their next opponent. They are sunburned, their hair plastered with sweat to their foreheads and necks, and their chosen team has just lost to its long-standing rival. All of this is secondary to the spirit and the drama of the game. This is the relationship Baltimore has with lacrosse.
There aren’t many things for which Baltimore can claim exclusive credit — Hairspray, Poe (who really just died here), The Wire, Natty Boh…the list is short and eclectic, and perhaps that is why Baltimore remains so fiercely loyal to lacrosse. The city and surrounding area are home to powerhouses at both the high school and college level, like Gilman, Loyola, Boys’ Latin, St. Paul’s, McDonogh, Bryn Mawr, The University of Maryland, and, of course, Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays legendary history has made them standout in the pantheon of lacrosse greats. In both the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, lacrosse was a demonstration event, and in both years Hopkins beat out every other team in the playoffs to become the American representative in the games. The men’s team has appeared in every NCAA tournament since the creation of the playoffs in 1971 and has won the championship nine times.
But great teams do more than just create devoted fans, they also create educated fans. It seems frequent success makes fans less rabid, allowing them to appreciate the sport rather than just the victories. At the national championship on Monday afternoon, I sat among enthusiastic Maryland fans eager to see the title go to their home team, who despite thirty-four tournament appearances have not won the championship since 1975. But when Virginia midfielder Colin Briggs scored his fifth goal of the game with just under two minutes remaining in the final quarter, the Terps fan behind me clapped slowly and said to his companions, “Great play. He’s a great player.” And as the last few seconds ticked off the clock and UVA stormed the field in a sea of orange and white, Terps and Cavaliers fans alike rose in appreciation.
Baltimore loves lacrosse because it belongs to us, and we’re good at it. It’s a devotion and an understanding that extends beyond the sport itself to an attitude, a look, and for some people essentially a way of life. It’s that part of it that is difficult to explain – my older sister doesn’t play lacrosse and cannot understand how my younger sister and I can pick other lacrosse players out of a group of people with such frightening accuracy, and we can’t really either. During my first year of collegiate play in Massachusetts, I realized that it’s not just a lacrosse culture that I understand, but a Baltimore lacrosse culture. In recent years lacrosse has enjoyed significantly increased popularity all over the nation and in some other countries as well. But no matter where it is played, lacrosse belongs to Baltimore, the city that built it, that knows it, and that loves it no matter who wins.
Marta Randall is a Baltimore Fishbowl summer intern. She graduated from Hereford High and plays lacrosse for a New England liberal arts college.