Saturday, August 15, 2009


Syracuse University’s recent victory over Cornell in the 2009 NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championships reminded me once again of this great game and probably the greatest lacrosse player ever, Syracuse’s Jim Brown (yea, that one). Lacrosse was his favorite and best sport. On the dark side it also harkened me back to 2006 and Durham, North Carolina. Those that know me understand that my aggressive defense of three members of the Duke Lacrosse Team and condemnation of the obvious trumped up charges against them was due in part to my love of the game and a keen understanding of the psyche, ethics and character that most lacrosse players have to possess to successfully master the sport.

It is undeniable that there are some jerks who play the game and while the sometimes “play-hard, party-hard” image of the game and the immature and patently unacceptable behaviors by some members of the Duke team that lead up to the false allegations were ill advised, they don’t forgive the actions of many on the prosecutorial side. That especially includes “rogue prosecutor” Mike Nifong who was disbarred after being found guilty of “fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation; of making false statements of material fact before a judge; of making false statements of material fact before bar investigators, and of lying about withholding exculpatory DNA evidence.” Even after that humiliating condemnation his troubles continue to this day. His motions to wrap himself in an immunity argument and bankruptcy have been denied and he remains exposed to the world for what he is and has done. His greatest legacy would appear to be the
neologism coined in his honor, “to Nifong somebody” i.e. to falsely accuse them. Seems to fit

The actions of Duke University and the now infamous “Group of 88” brought dishonor to this august university and exposed the bias, rush to injustice and lynch mob mentality inherent in some, though not all, faculty members. So, why did most faculty remain silent? When the truth was finally revealed most members of the Group of 88 refused to recant their condemnation with some apparently discouraged they didn’t get a conviction even though the players were declared “innocent.” This defiant and outrageous indifference to justice keenly demonstrated to many Duke parents a reckless disregard for the health and welfare of their children and begs the question why those "teachers" are still employed by any university. The intellectual and academic dishonesty in an environment where the free exchange of ideas and presumption of innocence should be paramount was appalling. It’s all about political agenda

Apologies by Duke President Brodhead who grossly mishandled the situation didn’t prevent him from being named as a defendant in a 2008 lawsuit filed by (then) 38 former and current unindicted members of the Duke Lacrosse team. In 2007 Duke University settled with the three accused players in what is perceived by many as a tacit admission of their guilt. The repercussions from this tragedy will continue for many years to come.

When the narrow minded hypocrites that constitute the “Group of 88” engaged their heinous knee jerk behaviors they took on an athletic culture that prides and values (more than any sport I have engaged) not only the very obvious traits of power, speed and agility but resolve, tenacity, persistence, discipline, physical and mental strength and, above all, teamwork. In short, they took on members of a family, a special and select fraternity of sport that values loyalty, integrity, honor, respect, character and all the good that this ancient sport musters. The best overall athletes physically and mentally are attracted to the game. You do have a sense that you are extending and perpetuating the best of the ancient revered cultures that birthed the sport almost a millennium ago. We are a devoted band of Brothers who share a special bond. Without the truth Nifong took a dull knife to a gun fight…

If you truly want to understand this phenomenon please read, Our Game: The Character and Culture of Lacrosse by John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, who is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John Yeager as a former lacrosse goaltender on his Boston State College team was fully baptized in the game. Just so you have full disclosure, my cousin John Neal Buxton is Head of Schools (headmaster) at Culver.

Despite the controversy the sport of lacrosse continues to grow and flourish. Indeed, Duke University rebounded and came within two goals of winning the national championship the following year. They lost to Johns Hopkins 12-11 in one of the best and evenly matched national title games I’ve ever witnessed. Makes you wonder how Duke would have fared had Duke President Brodhead not arbitrarily and capriciously cancelled their 2006 season.

Lacrosse is the oldest organized team sport in North America (the national summer sport of Canada) and the first varsity sport I lettered in (ever) at Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts where this moderately gifted/successful left handed right/left midfielder was mentored by the now legendary, yea iconic, Lacrosse Hall of Famer and long time Bowdoin College coach, Mort LaPointe. During his eleven year coaching stint at Lenox Mort accumulated an impressive 83-24 mark putting us in the lacrosse spotlight. Hello Mort, thanks for all the motivation and for an occasional attack stick across my butt when I needed it.

One of the secrets of the solid Lenox lacrosse team was a strong club lacrosse program where I proudly competed as a member of the Blackfeet Club. Yes, I was also a Griswold.

Brother John played at Lenox downstate rival Williston Academy (now Williston-Northampton School). Interestingly, a year after my graduation from Lenox I was invited to play for Williston Academy on a midfield line with Brother John in an exhibition game vs. Williston Alumni. I was unceremoniously pulled after a few shifts and where one of my shots hit the goal post narrowly missing what would have been an impressive score. It seems that the embarrassment and prospects of having to explain a goal scored by a member of a rival school was too much to bear. Hey, I think they showed real class and gave me a great memory of the game. Thanks to Brother John for facilitating that experience.

Lacrosse has its origins among the eastern Woodlands and some Plains First Nation peoples of present day Canada and the United States with the French missionary and now patron saint of Canada,
Jean de Brébeuf who observed Huron men playing the game in 1637 in what is now southeastern Ontario. Brébeuf’s mission catered primarily to the Hurons (he was the Apostle to the Hurons) a fact not lost on their traditional and fanatical enemies the Iroquois who captured the 55 year old Brébeuf, torturing and killing him in 1649.

Though Brebeuf may have been the first European to document the game, it appears that the game has been played in North America since at least the 1200’s. He called it lacrosse (le jeu de la crosse) – field hockey in French. It also appears that a version of the game was played even earlier in Mesoamerica.

So Native Peoples (First Nations) had been playing the game for hundreds of years before the French saw opportunity in America. It is believed that at least forty eight other native peoples played the game at that time. It took the Canadians to “civilize” the game (no they didn’t invent it) in the person of the fervent nationalist Montreal dentist William George Beers who in 1867 standardized the game by establishing the first set of formal playing rules. Beers had played the game as a member of the Montreal Lacrosse Club and went on in that same year to found the Canadian National Lacrosse Foundation. In 1869 Beers wrote and published a book on lacrosse entitled Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada.

Not unlike the Maya ball games, early on these contests were often played to resolve territorial conflicts, for religious or ceremonial purposes, to cure the ill, to provide a venue where young men could be tested and prove their mettle and, not surprisingly, to prepare for war. Note that Injury and death were fairly common. These early contests had great meaning, then, for native peoples who perceived this as the representation of their creation and a metaphor for control of the world.

Now these early contests were not waged on the 110 yard field we see today. Rather, these games were contested by up to 1000 men (or more) on a playing field that could stretch for miles. Individual contests lasted for days from sun up to sun down. The purpose of the game was to pass the ball which was generally made out of wood, stuffed deerskin, baked clay or stone (even the heads of an enemy – yikes!) past a goal that generally was a natural feature such as a tree or rock or as the game evolved - through one or two poles that constituted goalposts. Participants would “carry” or cradle the ball using one or two wooden sticks with a webbing pocket made of plant material or deer sinew. Some of the earlier sticks were essentially large wooden spoons (warclubs?). I contested the game with a left handed, wooden stick with a webbing pocket made of leather, string and cat gut (no I don’t want to know where it came from…) Modern sticks are made of hollow metal/graphite shafts, plastic heads and pockets of pliable webbing of mostly synthetic materials.

In 1973 I helped organize the Atlanta Lacrosse Club and ran midfield on a team off and on for a couple of years. We helped create substantial interest in the game in Georgia and supported Georgia Tech lacrosse which had been reinstituted as a club sport in 1971. I played in a couple of exhibition games in the old Atlanta Fulton County stadium before a couple of Atlanta Falcon NFL football games (even scored a couple of goals!).

While in Colorado back in 1975 I had the opportunity to play catch with some Aspen Stickmen at a local park in Aspen while doing some training/climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the Stickmen were from the east and had migrated west looking for that John Denver Rocky Mountain High. We all found it…

I lived in Cherokee County, Georgia for a number of years and embraced the history of a small but key town in that area called Ballground near where the Creek (Muscogee) and later the Cherokee engaged in lacrosse contests. The oral history of both tribes describe that near the confluence of Long-Swamp Creek and the Etowah River the Battle of Taliwa, a lacrosse contest and most certainly the knock down battle which followed took place there in 1755. The outcome of that contest determined control of that parcel of land. The Creeks lost and retired well south of that boundary. The Cherokee held that land until the State of Georgia took it away in the 1830’s. The historical record also documents that in 1790 the Creek and Choctaw engaged a lacrosse contest to see who would have rights to a beaver pond. This time the Creeks won though like Taliwa the so called amicable ball game evolved into a violent battle where the Creeks still prevailed.

So, what of the state of the game today? Well, while lacrosse was once a niche sport with its bastion in the eastern United States and Canada, it has now spread and is competed by well over 800 teams (male and female) on the college level in the US alone and over 1,200 high schools in the United States and Canada.. There are thousands more lacrosse clubs in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia that compete from the pee wee to the senior level.

Field lacrosse (outdoors) is contested on the professional level by Major League Lacrosse (MLL) teams while the indoor winter version of the game is played by the National Lacrosse League in arenas on Astroturf or a like surface while the other box lacrosse is contested in hockey arenas during the summer months on both the professional and club levels. And, hey, have you heard of

Formally, the international championship is contested by full International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) member nations Canada, Australia, England, the United States, Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Belgium, Sweden, South Korea, Czechoslovakia and affiliated nations/cities Argentina; Denmark; Hong Kong; Finland; Italy; and Tonga. Not ironically one of the more formidable teams that regularly competes for the International Lacrosse Championship is the
Iroquois Nationals (Haudenosaunee) team consisting of members of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and is the only Native American team sanctioned to compete in any international sport. Both the field and box versions of the game are the fastest growing international sports.

Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) is an international organization of non-NCAA, college club lacrosse programs. Its ten conferences are spread across North America, from coast to coast and include teams such as UCLA, Stanford, Boston College, University of Miami, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, Simon Fraser University, Colorado State, University of New Hampshire, University of Texas and my alma mater, Ole Miss. With over 200 teams, the MCLA represents the fastest growing segment of men's college lacrosse.

Lacrosse finally arrived at Ole Miss in 1995 reminding me that the endless hours of playing catch with my lacrosse stick and ball against the brick walls of Baxter Hall, the Sig Ep house or the tennis teams practice wall don’t seem as futile as they did in the early and mid 1960’s. The program is officially sponsored by The University which is a member of the MCLA’s Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference (GRLC) with Arkansas, Nebraska, Memphis, Kansas State, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, Creighton, DePaul, Northwestern and South Dakota. Ole Miss won the 2009 GRLSC IA Division Championship. The University of Michigan Wolverines won the 2009 MCLA Championship by defeating the amazing Chapman University Panthers of Orange Co., California.

Oh yea, Brother John’s alma mater, Tulane University and her students now sponsor the Green Wave lacrosse club which competes in the MCLA’s Lone Star Alliance Conference. Brother John who took the game to Tulane in 1963 has to be proud, and were he still with us, former great Tulane Athletic Director (1963-76) Dr. Rix Yard who came to Tulane from Denison University where he earned National Lacrosse Coach of the Year honors in 1963 following a perfect 12-0 season. Yard helped establish club lacrosse at Tulane in the early 1970’s.

And how about University of Montana lacrosse? The Grizzlies are alive and well in Missoula and set a high standard for Griz Lacrosse by capturing the 2007 MCLA Division B national title.

Life is good. Goes around, comes around. The Great Spirit – The Creator is at peace.


Ned Buxton

This post is dedicated to the memory of now departed outstanding Lenox Lacrosse teammates Clifton “Hummer” Dummett and Peter “Monk” McCabe and Sally LaPointe, wife to Mort and founder of Bowdoin College’s women’s lacrosse program where she was a distinguished coach for nineteen years . Rest Well, Aye

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