While things have calmed down since the rule mandating four stick checks per game (two per team) was instituted at the start of the high school lacrosse season, the new rule is still a hot topic in the stick community.
The question is whether the delays to analyze sticks are really necessary or a waste of time. To their surprise, the men who do the checking, the referees, are finding more problem sticks than first thought.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association adopted the National Collegiate Athletic Association rule this year, requiring four random stick checks per game. Coaches can request checks, but if they are wrong, it costs them a penalty.
Annapolis coach Dan Hart has been very outspoken about the new rule since day one, calling it "a ridiculous situation for the fans to have to wait through thechecks (and) putting another 15 to 20 minutes on a game."
At first the officials agreed with Hart and other coaches who have voiced their displeasure. But 11-year veteran Dick Duden, president of the Chesapeake Lacrosse Officials Association, says there "are a lot of illegal sticks out there."
He said his group had been opposed to adopting the NCAA rule.
"Our group really didn't want it, because all you're doing is looking for trouble," he said. "The rule is causing controversy, but after a few games we soon discovered that there is good reason for the rule.
"There are a lot of illegal sticks out there, and some of them are coming right from the manufacturers, which isunfortunate for the kids who spend good money to buy them."
Sticks at the widest part of the net must be at least 6 1/2 inches across;anything less is illegal because it retards movement of the ball. Permitted stick lengths are 40 to 42 inches for attackmen and 52 to 72 inches -- the so-called big sticks -- for defensemen.
The length of a goalie's stick is unlimited. But the controversy is not over length, but width.
Duden said it all started on the collegiate level, where "there appears to be a lot of playing with doctored sticks."
Former University of Maryland All-American attackman John Lamon of Severna Park disagrees, saying there is more "playing around with the sticks" on the high school level than in college.
"I think it's a little different on the high school level, because I think the kids that age are trying to do different things with their pockets. But in the college ranks, I don't think you will see that many doctored-up sticks," he said.
"Navy, for instance, hasn't had an illegal stick all year, and I don't think you will see it that much in the college game because of the risk you face."
Lamon noted that the penalty (three minutes in the box) could cost a crucial game and berth in the NCAA tournament.
"An illegal stick penalty cancost you a game, no question," he said. "Because of the level of play, the coaches and money involved, teams can't afford to have a player with an illegal stick."
Some observers differ, pointing to the Gait twins, former All-Americans for national champion Syracuse, but Lamon said that's a different situation.
Most Canadians, like Gary and Paul Gait, are used to playing with bigger pockets because of their indoor box lacrosse backgrounds. Box lacrosse is the Canadian national sport, and the guys playing it grow up with deep pockets and narrow heads.
"When they get into college, the first thing they do is drop their pocket, squeeze their stick, tie it up, put it in the oven and bake it, so it's nice and tight," Lamon said of a technique that apparently has filtered down to the high school level.
The Gait brothers were quite ashow with the Orangemen, even perfecting something similar to basketball's slam dunk. Whether it was extraordinary stick work or a combination of skill and a baked pocket, they're not telling.
Duden and other officials who work the high school games believe some on the prep level resort to such tactics to gain an edge: The ball can practically be locked in the net if the width is below 6 1/2 inches. Turn the stick over and with the net facing down, the ball doesn't fall out of a baked pocket.
The penalty is strict for such illegal sticks, unlike other field penalties that lapse as soon as the other team scores. Not only does the illegal stick end up on the scorer's table, but you serve all three minutes of the penalty, no matter what.
"A full-time three-minute penalty could cost a team one, two, three, up to five goals in a three-minute spurt against a team that runs a good,extra man offense," Lamon said.
Officials can check anyone's stick, including those of players on the sidelines. If someone not in thegame is holding an illegal stick, the guilty team loses one of its starting attackmen for three minutes.
"There has been a lot of talkabout the new rule around the state, and the illegal sticks are popping up enough that it can be considered a serious problem," Duden said. "After the season is over, we expect to sit down and have some serious discussions on this situation."