ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s athletes will be roaming the halls of government Tuesday demanding that the Legislature decide which sports the state should recognize as its own:
* Jousting, which has held the honor exclusively since 1962.
* Or lacrosse, which was introduced to what is now Maryland by the Iroquois Confederacy in the late 1600s, and whose fans want it named the official team sport.
In previous years, jousters have shown no mercy with challengers. They knocked down the duckpin bowlers in two General Assembly sessions, 1991 and ’96.
That reputation for a tough defense even led the Baltimore- based Lacrosse Foundation to ask Del. Rosemary Bonsack, D- Harford, to withdraw her lacrosse bill.
But Bonsack, who introduced the measure at the request of college lacrosse players, is advancing.
“I think jousting should remain the state sport, but that there is room for a team sport,” Bonsack said. “There is enough interest and enough concern that we can go ahead with a Maryland team sport — we can recognize and celebrate both.”
The jousters are holding their ground.
Bruce Hoffman, president of the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, pointed out that there is team competition in jousting. Therefore, there would be two official state team sports if the bill were to pass.
“We definitely oppose lacrosse as the state team sport,” Hoffman said. “The more state symbols, the less meaning they have. They should be worthy of designation.”
Steve Stenersen, executive director of the Lacrosse Foundation, was careful to disassociate his group from any call to arms. In fact, he wrote Bonsack a letter asking for a truce.
“We wanted to make sure before we go before the state Legislature that the sport of lacrosse is prepared to unite as one effort,” he said. “This hasn’t been achieved with this effort.”
Then he began to sound like a combatant.
The object is not to unseat jousting as the state sport, Stenersen said, just to win lacrosse a place in Maryland’s trophy room.
“We feel that lacrosse has been ingrained in the state’s history and that it, too, deserves recognition,” he said.
Stenersen added that Maryland is unique in recognizing a state sport, and if one should be recognized, then it should be popular in addition to having historical significance.
“Tens of thousands of people play lacrosse in the state,” he argued. “Outside the state, Maryland has been recognized as the home of lacrosse.” Bonsack believes the bill has a chance for a favorable vote from the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. But first, the battle will be joined at Tuesday’s hearing. -30-