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The WSJ Distills Lacrosse: Scholarships

Ralph Gardner Jr. wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently, which was titled: Lacrosse, the Sport of Scholarships. In this article he talks about his lack of knowledge about the game, his inability to win a face off against Greg Gurenlian, and how the sport of lacrosse can offer the children of WSJ readers scholarships to play the game in college.

While I love seeing lacrosse make its way onto the mainstream Wall Street Journal, I do have a couple of bones to pick with Mr. Gardner’s take on the situation. I love that he admits he lacks a true connection to the game, but his article was lacking in a couple of ways, and the misinformation could be a little dangerous.

The problem that I have with the article is that it paints lacrosse as a golden place where scholarships are easier to come by, than say football, or basketball, and it glosses over all the hard work, and investment of time and money, one often has to make just to get noticed. Greg Gurenlian is involved and interviewed, and he notes the hard work required many times, but the author doesn’t seem to really align himself with that view. It seems to be much more about endless opportunity than hard work.

Here is an example: Rob Pannell is one of, if not THE, top players in college right now. When he was in high school, he didn’t get a ton of looks. He had to PG at Deerfield to get to Cornell… and I’m talking about one of the BEST in the college game right now. So are scholarships really out there and available to kids in bunches? Is that the message you want to send to parents about lacrosse? It is certainly the message that the headline conveys, which impacts the story. To be fair, it is unlikely that Mr. Gardner wrote that headline.

The correct message here is that true scholarships for lacrosse are rare. A lot of lacrosse players do end up receiving scholarship money, but more often than not, it is for being a scholar, and not just a lacrosse player. After all, each D1 lacrosse team only gets 12.6 athletic scholarships, and schools like the Ivies don’t even offer athletic scholarships! Does that color how we look at this conversation? I should think so. Unfortunately, Mr. Gardner doesn’t look at any of that.

Maybe Mr. Gardner wrote something similar to what I wrote above, but canned it because it got away from the crux of his story; that lacrosse gets kids into college. I can’t say for sure.

But I can say that he almost nailed the true story here, and for a guy who doesn’t know lacrosse very well, that is an accomplishment worth noting.

The most basic and true story line is that lacrosse, when coupled with other activities and academic success, can open doors for any child. Perhaps it will open admission to a kid who would have been otherwise denied, and then that student will receive financial aid. Perhaps lacrosse got them to a school like Duke, but their skills on the saxophone paid their way. Maybe they worked incredibly hard for three years, and then got half of a scholarship as a Senior to lessen their families’ financial load. Maybe, just maybe, they were that one kid in the nation per year who maybe gets offered a full ride.

One thing I don’t see in all of the above? A lot of lacrosse scholarships being tossed around willy nilly.

Lacrosse, like many other sports, offers kids the chance to test themselves, and invest in something bigger than themselves. It teaches valuable lessons on the importance of hard work, individual skill development, playing together, and fighting through adversity. It is a game with no excuses, and if kids fall in love with the roots of the game, it can also teach them spirituality and history. THESE are the skills and lessons that will get kids into college, and possibly earn them scholarships.

The fact that you can be any size and still be a great player just means the opportunity to play is there for more people, and also that it is more competitive. Will you play lacrosse and expect a scholarship? Or will you play lacrosse, and be a good person, and see what you can make happen with all of that?

The latter will get you much further in life, and will increase your chances of getting a scholarship, even if it’s not directly for lacrosse.

Additional Nitpicking:

Lacrosse is bigger than football at some schools—Johns Hopkins, for example; well, maybe only at Johns Hopkins—but it’s also played in the Ivy League.”

Lacrosse is also bigger than football at Hobart (where it is also D1 on a D3 campus), and UVM, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Boston University, UMBC, Hartford, Detroit, Fairfield, Manhattan, Canisius, Loyola, and Denver. This list is off the top of my head, but these schools do not even offer football within their athletics programs, so lacrosse, by default, is bigger than football.

Some very basic research could have cleared that up.

I also didn’t love that Mr. Gardner began his piece with the assertion that you can be too old to learn lacrosse. This is not all that dangerous of an assertion, but it is pure poppycock.

A friend of mine, Dan Bennett, picked up the game at 50, I met him when he was 56, and he still plays today in New York City at 59. Another friend of mine, a former boxer from Canada, Marco Hill, started playing the game a year ago. He’s 42. I played against him in New Orleans and Prague. Too old to learn lacrosse? That’s simply not a thing unless you say decide it is! And even then it’s not true.

The last small issue I’ll raise comes up when Mr. Gardner describes the sport, and yes, this is super nit-picky. Like Mr. Gardner, I’m not perfect!

People love to compare lacrosse to other games, and while I don’t love the idea of sport-to-sport comparison in general, if I were going to make a connection here, I’d probably compare it to hockey, but off the ice, and in the air. I can certainly see how standing around, and playing catch, would remind Mr. Gardner of baseball, but standing around is not really part of our actual game. And yes, there is running in soccer and lacrosse, but that is a rather reductionist view on things, isn’t it?

Overall, it’s heartening to see lacrosse getting some attention from the big guys, like the Wall Street Journal. I just wish they would do a little more research before publishing a story laden with this much easily researched misinformation about a truly wonderful game.