Fastest game on two legs

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Once seen as an elite sport, lacrosse is making inroads into Scottish schools. Roddy Mackenzie reports.

It claims to be the fastest game on two legs but lacrosse is still finding a foothold in Scottish sport. The game has been around in this country for 110 years but you have to read the fine print of the sports pages to find a mention.

Now, through the schools game, where it all began in 1890, lacrosse is taking on a new lease of life. Emily Salvesen, national development officer for the Scottish Lacrosse Association (SLA) and a member of the Scotland team that won gold at the European Championships in Prague in 1998, believes the sport has a bright future.

Through pop lacrosse - a small-sided version of the game which incorporates the basic skills of field hockey but uses a plastic stick and soft ball - the game has entered parts of Scotland that were out of reach before.

Miss Salvesen visits schools throughout the country and offers instruction in the game, and schools can keep the equipment free of charge for a term.

The game has proved a big success and there are now tournaments at district and regional level which act as qualifiers for the Scottish finals at Meadowbank on April 30. Two Under-11 teams from Meadowbank then qualify for the UK finals at Bradfield College near Reading on June 11.

There are no national knock-out tournaments in field lacrosse at school level, but a number of open tournaments involve the top Scottish and English schools.

Miss Salvesen, who has played for Scotland for seven years and came through the Under-21 ranks, is well qualified to coach the sport.

"Basically, my remit is to cover as much of Scotland as I can. I've recently been at Bankhead Academy in Aberdeen and in Dumfries and Galloway. I've also been spending a lot of time in Glasgow with the European Championships there in the summer," she explains.

"There is a notion that lacrosse is an elite sport and St Leonards in St Andrews was the first Scottish school to play it. But while there are a lot of independent schools playing it, we've been going into mostly state schools for pop lacrosse and it's been well received.

"Since many people saw the World Cup in Scotland on television in 1993, I think there has been a change of attitude towards the game and the St Trinian's profile is not an issue now."

Miss Salvesen reckons over 1,000 schoolchildren have been exposed to pop lacrosse and her main concern now is bridging the gap between that introduction to the sport and full field lacrosse.

ield lacrosse is physically demanding and there can be a huge step up for young players, but many clubs now have junior sections to ease them in. Edinburgh's Capital Lacrosse Club, for example, has youngsters from as young as seven and, by the first year of secondary school, they can be playing the full game.

The game is strong in Edinburgh and in Dumfries and Galloway where it thrived after the Lockerbie air disaster, because Syracuse University, which had some of its lacrosse team on board the flight, has since formed a strong bond with the Lockerbie people and sent students over to Scotland to coach the sport in local schools.

Sanquhar's Penpont primary plays a lot of lacrosse, but the problem has been where youngsters go to play the game once they leave primary. "A new junior club has just been set up this term in Thornhill near Dumfries, so a lot of kids from the surrounding area now have a place to go and develop their skills," says Miss Salvesen.

"Pop lacrosse is still very strong in the area but the senior game is not so strong. Basically, the problem we have is just getting the personnel to take teams and provide coaching in schools.

"I think once people see the game, they take to it. When Sky television recently showed a USA v England game, there was a great response from viewers."

With Glasgow staging the European Championships in July, there is a fresh incentive to spread the word. The men's game is starting to catch on and, while the Scotland women's team won the European Championship two years ago, beating the highly-rated England side in the process, the men have won two bronze medals at that level.

With pop lacrosse for both boys and girls, there could be a unique double for Scotland at some future Europeans.

"The men's game is becoming extremely popular but it is quite expensive to get all the equipment. The men use different sticks and also have to wear helmets and special gloves, but we're building up our equipment on the men's side," says Miss Salvesen.

In addition to staging the European Championships, Scotland is also hosting the Junior Women's Triangular against England and Wales at Peffermill in Edinburgh on March 4, where some of the players on view will have come up through the pop lacrosse culture.

It is likely to be too early for any of the Scotland team to graduate to the senior team for the European Championships in Glasgow but there must be an outside chance of at least a couple making next year's squad for the World Cup at Wycombe Abbey in England.

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