Fastest Museum on Two Feet

A collection of jerseys from championships teams hangs above the other exhibits at the Lacrosse Museum in Baltimore.

A collection of jerseys from championships teams hangs above the other exhibits at the Lacrosse Museum in Baltimore.

The Tewaaraton Trophy is the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse. Given to outstanding college players — both men and women — its name is Mohawk for lacrosse.

The Tewaaraton Trophy is the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse. Given to outstanding college players — both men and women — its name is Mohawk for lacrosse.

Lacrosse, it is said, is the fastest sport on two feet. Played by Native Americans for thousands of years, it’s huge in Baltimore, as it is in New York, the mid-West and is now quickly spreading across the nation.

A tiny museum on the edge of Johns Hopkins University’s campus pays tribute to the history, the teams, the coaches and the players of this lightning-quick sport. The Lacrosse Museum is housed in the offices of US Lacrosse just beyond the field where the Hopkins Blue Jays play a mean game.

The museum is worth a visit if you play lacrosse, like lacrosse, or like someone who plays lacrosse.

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Women’s lacrosse has its own section with all kinds of memorabilia from the first days to the last few championships.

Exhibits here do a great job documenting the changes the sport has gone through over the years. When I was in high school, I couldn’t cradle a ball to save my life but I liked the sport enough to serve as a scorekeeper for our high school team one spring. Those girls played hard, but with grace, and in skirts, no less. The sport has only gotten faster and more skilled.

How lacrosse player's headgear has changed. The oldest and the newest are among those on display.

How lacrosse player’s headgear has changed. The oldest and the newest are among those on display.

And the equipment has changed dramatically since those first teams in the late 1800s. The Lacrosse Museum has a great collection of helmets (with modified baseball caps in the early days).

Some of the oldest lacrosse sticks.

Some of the oldest lacrosse sticks.

Even more impressive are all the lacrosse sticks. There are ancient hickory sticks used by Native Americans, the original lacrosse sticks handmade by Native Americans and used by high school, college and club team players until sometime in the 1970s when sticks started having plastic heads. STX, a Baltimore-based company, produced the first so-called modern lacrosse stick. One of them is on display at this museum. Another exhibit shows how Native Americans produced (and still produce) hickory lacrosse sticks. It’s a time-consuming and highly-skilled craft.

Step by step guide on how to make a lacrosse stick from hickory wood to ready to play.

Step by step guide on how to make a lacrosse stick from hickory wood to ready to play.

A timeline features a wealth of artifacts from the first lacrosse rulebook to newspaper clippings, jerseys, balls and other paraphernalia. A 25-minute film, “More Than a Game,” rounds out the visit by telling the history of lacrosse with interviews from players from the past.

 That’s football great Jim Brown on the right in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He’s considered one of the best lacrosse players ever.

That’s football great Jim Brown on the right in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He’s considered one of the best lacrosse players ever.

The Hall of Fame, which began in 1957, exhibits photos of some of the greatest players, coaches and others who have played the game. These include Rosabelle Sinclair who introduced women’s lacrosse to America, George Beers who wrote the first rule book and William “Dinty” Moore, who coached at St. John’s College and the U.S. Naval Academy and was one of the founders of the Lacrosse Foundation.

The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you’re a real fan, call ahead and see if archivist Joe Finn will be available. He’s got a million stories.

Briefly, in 1904 and 1908, lacrosse was an Olympic sport. It reappeared as an exhibition sport in 1932. A team uniform is on display at the Lacrosse Museum.

Briefly, in 1904 and 1908, lacrosse was an Olympic sport. It reappeared as an exhibition sport in 1932. A team uniform is on display at the Lacrosse Museum.

A visit will last about an hour — an hour and a half if you watch the movie — maybe a little longer if you know any of the people whose pictures hang in the Hall of Fame. And you might. I didn’t even play lacrosse myself and I recognized a couple of people.

Pair a visit here with a stop at Babe Ruth’s Birthplace or the Sports Legends Museum to complete a day of athletic tributes. Or if the season is right, catch a Blue Jays game— men’s or women’s — or see Loyola University Maryland’s Greyhounds — men’s  or women’s — in action. Loyola’s All-American goalkeeper Sue Heether was inducted into the Hall of Fame for 2013.

The new season starts in February.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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