1904 Olympic Lacrosse teams – What went wrong?
In our previous blog about the 1904 Olympics we discussed that only three lacrosse teams played in the 1904 Olympic Games. In addition, those teams were not the best available from the United States or Canada. So why? Why would countries not send their best teams to the Olympics?
In 1903 there were two major lacrosse leagues in the United States, the Eastern Lacrosse League, and the Northwestern Lacrosse League. The Eastern league included teams east of Pittsburgh, while Northwestern league covered the Midwest area including teams in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, and Minnesota.
1903 is the heyday for lacrosse in the United States. Amateur lacrosse in the United States started formally in 1879, when a national lacrosse league was formed in Newport, Rhode Island. Lacrosse died down in the 1890s, but came roaring back in 1900s. That is one of the reasons lacrosse was selected by the United States as an Olympic Sport.
In 1903 the St. Paul Lacrosse Club won the Northwestern Lacrosse league in a close battle with the Calumets from Chicago. Both teams knew the lacrosse leagues would look at prior champions when selecting a team for the Olympics the next year.
Coolest uniform in those days!
Back in the East the Brooklyn Crescents were clearly the best lacrosse team beating all other teams in their region. (The Brooklyn Crescents also had the coolest uniforms, in one man’s opinion, of the day. It featured a quarter moon on the hats and jersey.) 1903 also brought the first trip from England colleges to play American teams. Lacrosse players from the England came were from Oxford and Cambridge. Brooklyn Crescents gave the Oxford-Cambridge lacrosse team its only loss on the trip.
So at the end of 1903 the two best teams in the United States were the Brooklyn Crescents and St. Paul Saints. Plans were being made to have a playoff with the top teams playing to decide who would represent the United States at the Olympics.
As the 1904 lacrosse season unfolded it seemed the same two teams would win their leagues again. St. Paul defeated all the Northwest teams, while Brooklyn also went undefeated in the East. As the end of June approached in 1904 a plan to playoff was being formalized. The Eastern league, who had more teams in their league, agreed to fund the trip to St. Louis for the playoff winner.
Now here is where it all falls apart. A complaint was filed in the Eastern league that the Brooklyn Crescents had paid lacrosse players, which violated league rules. No professional players were allowed. Plans fell apart. St. Paul expected another team would be named to represent the East in a playoff. But the East was caught in such turmoil over the cheating they decided not to send anyone to a playoff game.
St. Paul petitioned that they should represent the United States by default and would do so in grand fashion. But the East refused to release the funding for a team to travel. With the Olympic Lacrosse games only days away St. Paul did not have time to raise funds for travel themselves. A local lacrosse club did exist in the St. Louis area, formed by a former St. Paul Lacrosse member.
The Eastern League decided that the local St. Louis should represent the United States in Olympics. That was that.
Upon hearing that the Brooklyn and St. Paul lacrosse teams were not going to represent the United States the Shamrocks of Montreal did not feel compelled to make the long journey to St. Louis.
Instead, they offered to the Shamrocks of Winnipeg to attend in their place. The Winnipeg team agreed and sent notice they would represent Canada with honor in their National Sport.
The first thing that the Shamrocks of Winnipeg did was reached out to the St. Paul Saints of Minnesota and offered to play a lacrosse game on their way to the St. Louis.
St. Paul accepted and that will be another blog on what happened.
Source material – Minnesota Lacrosse: A History