What's in a Game?

A primer on some sports that thrive for their own sake

LACROSSE

One part hand-eye precision, one part head-knocking aggression, one part running like hell, lacrosse substantially alters the paradigm of standard American stick-and-ball sports. As in hockey, players are allowed to "check" opponents within a certain radius of the ball, so long as they adhere to certain rules in doing so. And the basic deployment is much like that of a soccer team, with a front line of attackers whose primary concern is scoring, a defensive goal-keeper with a row of defenders in front of him, and a trio of mid-fielders who pull double duty, sprinting upfield for offensive maneuvers and dropping back when opponents attack.

But the game's uniqueness derives primarily from its mode of ball transport, via lightweight rods (of varying size, depending on the bearer's position) with small "nets" on one end, for slinging the hard rubber projectiles from player to player or into one of the game's two five-by-five netted goals, located at either end of the 110-yard field, a few feet in front of the far boundary lines.

"It took me a whole summer just to learn how to throw the ball," says freshman rookie 'crosser Mac McCollum. "Even veteran players practice throwing and catching, throwing and snagging the ball off a cement wall for hours on end."

"Even though it's a physical game, there's really no inherent advantage in size," adds UT lacrosse coach Buff Grubb. "If you have a good finesse team vs. a physical team that checks a lot, the finesse team will win nine out of 10 times."

RUGBY

Don't ask for an in-depth explanation of the game of rugby unless you've had a good night's sleep and a lot of time on your hands. It's similar to American football, in that the object is to move the ball across the opponent's back line, called the tri line. Unlike football, there's no blocking, no forward passing, and no downs—play is continuous so long as the ball remains in bounds.

"It's a true team sport; there's no room for 'stars,'" says UT lady rugby player Lenore Kinder. "We're co-dependent. If I'm not where I need to be at any given time, it throws off our whole scheme."

In general, strategy is geared toward backing up the player with the ball, as teammates prepare to receive a lateral or jockey for position once the ball is relinquished following a tackle; a runner who has been taken down will place the ball on the ground behind him/her, preferably in such a manner as to best enable teammates to regain possession, a maneuver referred to as "setting up the ruck."

"There's no comparison (to other sports) that really seems adequate," says Kinder. "Rugby truly is its own game."

EQUITATION

You could say that the equestrian concept of "equitation" simply amounts to good horse sense (although it would be better if you didn't.) The means by which trained riders control their mounts, equitation places emphasis on the horseman's technique rather than the steed's breeding and training.

There are two schools of equitation: Western, inherited from the American ranch hand; and English, with its red-garbed riders and riding crops, the traditional form most people recognize from ESPN. In competition, the horsemen draw lots to determine which of several contest animals they will ride; by turns, each rider will guide his charge through a series of maneuvers in order to demonstrate his/her precision and command of the horse.

"Everyone has four bones in their seat," explains UT equestrian Amanda Smith, a senior in food science. "Once you become really experienced, you can identify what the horse is doing by the way its body parts move and affect yours. That 'feel' is what separates good riders from great ones."

FENCING

UT fencing club member Derek Baron explains that the term fencing is essentially a 500-year-old colloquialism, derived from European sword-masters in the 16th century who advertised themselves as "master(s) of the art of defense." The term also refers to the 2-meter by 14-meter strip, or fence, upon which combatants maneuver.

"The fence is so narrow, and the weapon is so fast that you really don't feel the need to move sideways," he says, pointing to the pair of masked duelists who are currently the center of attention on the floor of the Stokely Athletics Center. As the combatants engage, their attacks (and their evasions) are a matter of forward and backward movement, rather than side-to-side maneuvering.

UT club members work in all three fencing disciplines: the foil, the epee, and the saber, wielding characteristically blunted weapons outfitted with electronic sensors, needed to ascertain scoring in competition.

Much of the fencer's practice consists of footwork and balance drills rather than so-called "free fencing." Says Baron, "Many of the drills are like choreographed fights, like katas in the martial arts."

© 2001 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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