In an age in which the fans are looking for faster games, at least games that aren't continually stopped for TV commercials and other reasons, high school lacrosse has taken a step in the other direction.
Often promoted as the fastest game on foot, lacrosse may soon beknown as the slowest game on foot.
Seems the latest in boys' lacrosse is to make the games longer. At least that's the impression I get after learning that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has adopted the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rule requiring four mandatory, random stick checks during a game.
Before this year, the MPSSAA rule was that sticks would be checked for illegality only at the request of a coach. Now the zebras must stop play at least four times during the course of a game to get out the tape measures and check sticks.
FOR THE RECORD - Monday's Sidelines column incorrectly identified one of the scorers in the North County vs. Northeast boys lacrosse game.
Joe Ross scored one of the North County goals on a fast break, as the Knights defeated Northeast, 4-3. The other goal scorers were Bob Wolfe, James Meyer and Joe Wojociechowski.
Each team is to be randomlychecked twice during the game and of course, other stoppages may andmore than likely will occur if a coach requests a check. So, there could be at least six checks a game or more.
All that does is impede the tempo of an exciting game and at the same time make the nativesin the stands restless.
Adding to the problem is the number of illegal sticks that are apparently being sold by local sporting goods outlets. Kids are buying sticks that are illegal, and they don't know it.
Annapolis coach Dan Hart says the unintentional use of illegalsticks almost cost his team a very important game Friday night. The host Panthers edged Arundel 5-4 in a Class 4A Region IV battle between two expected playoff teams, but the discovery of an illegal stick nearly reversed that decision.
"After a random check, we were a mandown (player is put in the penalty box for one minute for an illegalstick), and they could have cost us the game," said a disgruntled Hart.
"I'm going around to a couple of the sporting goods stores this week to find out what the hell is going on. Sticks are being sold that nobody knows are illegal, and the kids don't realize it."
The rule says that the width of a net on the top of the stick (at the widest part) must be at least six and one-half inches. Less than that isillegal because it is basically pinched, which means the player has a distinct advantage of keeping it tucked in his net and can control and whip it more readily than with a so-called legal stick.
"Thereis definitely an advantage not allowed by the rules that enables a player to fire the ball more quickly," said Hart.
One player told me that the Gait brothers, the former Syracuse All-Americans, had their sticks so pinched that they had to catch everything at the top of their net because the bottom barely cupped the ball.
"Well, see that's the thing they're trying to avoid, but the kids buying similar pockets don't realize they are spending 40 to 50 bucks on an illegal stick," said Hart.
"The kids weren't looking to cheat and use an illegal stick. They didn't know, and apparently a couple brands coming from the manufacturers out there are not legal."
Bruce Lawton, the Old Mill boys' lacrosse coach, is the Anne Arundel County chairman for the stick sport and said over the weekend that he had not received complaints over possible illegal sticks or over the new random check rule.
"No, I haven't heard from anyone with any problems," said Lawton. "But I know there are a couple new sticks on the market that are rolled in at the top and have open ends. Whether they are illegal or not, I don't know."
Besides the Arundel at Annapolis game Fridaynight, there were four other county boys' games involving public schools, including Lawton's own Old Mill team.
"We didn't have any problems in our game," said Lawton, whose Patriots were hammered 9-4 bySeverna Park.
Lawton says the stoppages didn't seem to bother anybody in his game, but I can see Hart's point that four random checks -- not to mention checks by request -- can cause unrest and undue delay.
"It's got to put an extra 15 to 20 minutes on the game," said Hart.
"Usually we're back in here (in the locker room) by 9:15 p.m. after a 7:30 start. (Friday night) we didn't get back in until after 9:30 p.m.
"The random checks are up to the discretion of the officials, and they say impact players (guys who score and who can be the difference in a game) are to be targeted."
Hart pointed out how the tempo of a game could be in the favor of one team until that momentum is halted by a stick check. In my opinion, that is a very good point, because despite what some may say, momentum is a crucial element in all of sports and especially in high school athletics.
"The tempo can be stopped by a check and give the other team a chance to regroup," says Hart. "Our fans were really upset over all the stops Friday night to check sticks, and there are some officials out there wholike to play God and could mess up a good game."