Technology can't be stopped; wooden lacrosse sticks are replaced by metal sticks with plastic heads, and the microwave oven becomes a common appliance.
But lacrosse officials are stopping players who combine those two advances to create an illegal stick.
This year, Carroll boys players had to follow the NCAA's new random stick check rule. Once a half, officials chose one stick from eachteam and measured it to make sure it was legal. (Officials have always checked every girls stick before the game.)
A short stick must measure between 40 and 42 inches, a long stick between 70 and 72 inches, and the width of the head at the widest point must be at least 6 1/2 inches.
If a player's stick is found to be illegal under any of those conditions, he is given a three-minute non-releasable penalty. A deep pocket draws a one-minute foul.
One of the ways to alter the head is to microwave it until the plastic becomes soft, and then tie it to make a slightly narrower head, thus making the ball more difficult to dislodge.
John M. Sheehan, scholastic lacrosse commissioner for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and the Maryland Scholastic Association, says the emphasis on the sticks followed revelations by Paul and Gary Gait, former Syracuse University stars, that they played with illegal sticks. In addition, Sheehan said, spot checks at one college game turned up 20 illegal sticks.
"They didn't find it was a problem until this fall. It all came toa head," he says.
In the past, the only way an official checked astick was upon the request of a coach. But few coaches asked for theinspection.
"In 10 years of coaching I've never, ever called for a stick check," says Jim Peters, Westminster's lacrosse coach. "I think that's unsportsmanlike."
Sheehan says players took advantage ofcoaches' reluctance to call for the checks.
"It's been proven coaches won't do it," he says. "That's why they (the NCAA rules committee) took it out of the coaches' hands."
County coaches have mixed reactions.
"The rule is absolutely useless," South Carroll's Gene Brown says. "It's a waste of time."
The veteran coach adds that he hates to see a penalty called for a stick violation "because coaches can't control their kids completely." He checks his players' sticks, he says, and has not found one violation. He adds that he has never called for a stick check in 15 years of coaching.
Jim Langrall ran into a different problem. In a preseason scrimmage, one of his starting attackmen received the three-minute penalty because his stick was one-quarter-inch too short. But the stick had been cut by a reputablelacrosse store.
In an early scrimmage, one Westminster player showed Peters a stick that was manufactured in such a way that the stop was illegal. Peters asked a referee, who agreed the stick would be ruled illegal in a game. But the manufacturer stood by its stick.
Peters notes that manufacturers and officials have to get together on the specifications.
Chris Kraft, North Carroll's lacrosse coach, had a penalty called in a junior varsity game because a stick was one-quarter-inch too short.
"Three minutes for such a simple infractionwas splitting hairs," he says. "A quarter-inch or half-inch isn't going to make that much difference."
In another game, a referee ruled one of the Panthers' sticks was too short, but when asked to double-check it, he agreed it was legal.
And, notes Western Maryland College coach Michael L. Williams, "Sticks can also change size in the course of the game; sticks can change size in the cold."
Although Williams measures every stick before games, his leading scorer received a three-minute penalty.
"That particular stick was checked threegames in a row," he says. But in the fourth game, it was ruled illegal. Williams noted that a three-minute penalty "is devastating in a close game. From a coaching standpoint, a three-minute penalty is unacceptable."
Despite those problems, Williams says, "I think the rule is a good rule. In any sport, on any level, someone's always tryingto get an edge."
"It's an OK rule by me," Langrall says.
Although he says he thinks most of the doctoring of sticks occurs on the college level, "stuff from the colleges filters down very quickly."
Adds Peters, "Kids will try to take advantage of whatever you will allow them to do. We had no illegal sticks; we knew the rule was coming, and we made the kids aware of it. We kept on top of the kids; theywere very aware that the rule was there."
Although Sheehan believes the rule is a good one and welcomed by coaches, he sees room for adjustment. In particular, he wants the penalty to be more equitable on the different levels. A JV quarter is eight minutes long, and the three-minute penalty is far more devastating there than in the 15-minute college quarter or the 10-minute varsity quarter.
Sheehan wantsto see the penalty reduced on the JV level so that it makes up the same percentage of a quarter as it does when called in college or highschool varsity. He plans to suggest that change for next year.
Meanwhile, players had better stick to using the microwave for their dinners.