Jousting as state sport - let's lance this boil

January 19, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

WHEN THE TOPIC of our state sport is brought up in this newspaper every few years, I can count on getting a phone call from some wire-service reporter or out-of-town editor who has just seen the story.

"Let me get this straight," the caller says. "Your state sport is jousting?"

When I answer with something to the effect of "That's right, pal, what's it to you?" gales of laughter can be heard on the other end.

Then we can count on seeing another story pop up somewhere in the national press with a headline such as: "Hopeless hicks in Free State carry on medieval pastime."

So it's high time we put this embarrassing issue to rest once and for all.

It's high time that Marylanders everywhere are able to hold their heads high again and say:

"OK, maybe we're not perfect. Maybe we freak out when the forecast calls for 2 inches of snow, and maybe we have those ugly farm-scene license plates and maybe we gave the world Spiro Agnew, for which we'll never be forgiven, nor should we be.

"But, by God, at least we've updated our state sport."

I bring this up because there was news the other day that the president of the state Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller, is championing a bill to make lacrosse Maryland's official team sport.

Apparently, jousting will continue to be the state's official sport - it has carried that embarrassing designation since 1962.

But maybe if Miller's bill goes through, enough public support can be marshaled to distance the state from jousting once and for all.

I mean, could Maryland possibly have chosen a more ancient sport?

What, falconry was already taken? What about rock-slinging? Or fire-starting?

It would be one thing, of course, if, when we talked about jousting, we were talking about the jousting of old: two men wearing plate armor and metal helmets and wielding sharp lances charging toward each other atop mighty steeds.

If it were that kind of jousting - wounded warriors being dragged off the field in front of roaring crowds as another pair of contestants don their armor, mount up and get ready to do battle - well, that would be kind of cool.

That would certainly make Maryland unique.

There would be some promotional value in a state sport like that, too.

You could envision ESPN carrying the jousting tournaments and 60,000 people showing up at M&T Bank Stadium to watch them, with the governor or the mayor or maybe even Joan Jett throwing out the "first gauntlet."

Why, I myself would be first in line for season tickets.

But the state sport of jousting is actually ring jousting, which is to real jousting what a pillow fight is to a heavyweight boxing match.

In ring jousting, participants on horseback try to skewer little rings hanging from lines with their lances.

Why the pastime is not called "ring-skewering" is beyond me, but I'm sure they have their reasons.

It's a very leisurely pastime, which is fine, but only a very few people in Southern and Western Maryland still engage in it.

Then again, shuffleboard is a leisurely sport, too. But you don't find too many states clamoring to make it the state sport.

The point is, it's high time - actually 600 years past high time - that we modernize our state sport.

Which brings us - or brings Mike Miller, in any event - to lacrosse.

Personally, I am not big on lacrosse, but I realize there are many in this state who love the game and follow it passionately - at least judging by the many lacrosse stickers I see affixed to the monster SUVs that cut me off on the Beltway each day.

The big college lacrosse championship last spring drew thousands of visitors from all over the country to Baltimore, although the rioting that followed - the burning, overturned Land Rovers and BMWs, the marauding bands of well-scrubbed men and women in polo shirts, khaki pants and loafers with no socks terrorizing shopkeepers with lacrosse sticks - gave the city a black eye.

Hey, I'm only kidding.

The lacrosse people were sweethearts. Plus they spent a ton of money in this town while they were here.

Anyway, their sport has to be more relevant than jousting.

A jousting riot ... boy, that could get ugly, too.

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