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Learning Lacrosse

May 25, 2012

If you know much about me at all, you probably know that I'm a big-time sports fan. That goes nearly across the board, amateur or pro, for most any sport, from the mainstream to the obscure. I found a love for snooker during my semester at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England in the fall of 1998, both in playing it and also in watching it be played on a high level by professionals. Most Americans have never even heard of the game, similiar to billiards but distinctily different.

Even those few sports that I didn't have a natural affinity for, like auto racing, I finally grew to like. For example, in my younger years I was usually bored by NASCAR and auto racing in general, though I distinctly remember hearing a radio broadcast of a NASCAR race as a kid at the old Cards-R-Fun in Nashville and being impressed by how exciting the announcers made it sound.

Tony Stewart helped us out with the packing-and-shipping in early 2006.

It took some time, but I eventually came around on NASCAR after meeting Tony Stewart in 2006. Motor sports, I suppose much like any other, is a more enjoyable viewing experience when you have a rooting interest. When I met Tony, he was coming off of a 2005 NEXTEL Cup Series (former Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup) championship, but he was as down-to-earth as any sports star you could even meet. You would think he was just a friend of Bubba's from back home or something as opposed to being a multimillionaire celebrity of the auto racing world.

Tony helped me fill some orders when I handled merchandise fulfillment for Bubba the Love Sponge , actually volunteering to do so himself. The image to the right wasn't a staged photo -- he didn't even know I was taking the shot. But you should know that, if you bought some merch from BTLS early on during the Sirius satellite radio era, it's entirely possible that Tony Stewart himself packed your order.

How can you not cheer for a guy who is the champion of the highest level of his sport who also happens to be as level-headed as any celebrity-athlete you could ever meet? That locked me in as a Tony fan for life, though I had been cheering for Tony well before that since Bubba had spoken so highly of him and he had been a guest on the show multiple times.

One sport that I didn't know much about (good or bad) until relatively recently was lacrosse. I have been trying to learn more about the sport, which with ESPN carrying much of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament (on its multiple networks) over the past few days has been easier than it would have been otherwise. I first heard about lacrosse when I was in high school in the early 1990s, when my friend Kurt's family moved down from Ohio. On more than one occasion I remember Kurt mentioning lacrosse in passing before Geometry class. But I didn't know much about the sport then -- and, in many ways, I still have a tremendous amount to learn about it.

In the fall of 2010 I met Rhett Douglas, who ended up as my broadcast partner for Father Ryan High School football games last fall. He runs a great store called Lacrosse Nashville, which is a wonderful place for both individuals and teams to go to for lacrosse equipment, pads, etc. I write that not just because I've done business with Rhett or because he's my friend -- I do so because his store is outstanding and I respect a well-run business. It's too bad that not every specialty sports store is run with the care, thought, and efficiency that Rhett and his employees put into Lacrosse Nashville.

As a spectator sport, lacrosse (particularly field lacrosse) is fun to watch and not terribly difficult to understand on a basic level. Both teams use sticks with pockets on the end, with those sticks used to pass a rubber ball from teammate to teammate and then ultimately shoot on the opposing team's goal. The ball weighs about five ounces and is roughly 2 inches in diameter; the goal face is 72" by 72" and 84" deep.

There is plenty I don't yet understand about the game, though terms like "man up" are pretty cool even if the closest thing I can do to understand it is to compare it to a power play in ice hockey. I have to admit that I don't understand all of the penalties, what constitutes a stall warning (which I presume is similar to the shot clock in basketball), and why the refs throw flags like you would see in American football. But as opposed to being Know It All Lou when it comes to something, with lacrosse I watch and listen and try to learn.

Lacrosse requires an interesting skillset: great aim, dexterity, endurance, speed, and strength. You don't see flopping in lacrosse. The women's game is distinctly different from the men's game, with a much less physical style of play, different equipment and even a different timing system on the college level with two halves as opposed to four quarters. But, at least to me, it's a compelling sport, and it will be interesting to see if its national exposure on ESPN will help the sport continue to grow in popularity in the United States.

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