- First Posted: 2023-07-12
- Updated: 2023-09-03 15:12:56
The Origins of Nassau County Lacrosse
-Written by Mike Hungerford for the NCLCA with special thanks to Jake White.
The origins of scholastic lacrosse on Long Island can be found in New York City with the Public School Athletic League (PSAL). The PSAL was formed thanks to the work of Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick by the New York City Board of Education in 1903. Lacrosse became a sanctioned sport during the 1909-1910 school year, and during its formative years Brooklyn schools such as Manual Training, Erasmus Hall, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison fielded the best teams. Poly Prep, a private school located in Brooklyn, also was an early power in the sport.
Rules then did not bar competition with college and prep teams, so additional non-league games came from local college freshman teams and/or college junior varsities, including West Point, Princeton University, Union College, City College of New York, New York University, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Rutgers University. The PSAL teams played for the right to hoist the Colonel Robert M. Thompson Trophy, symbolic of the city championship. The trophy’s namesake was a major philanthropic supporter of amateur athletics in the United States and was a president of the New York Athletic Club.
The game did not come to Long Island until the 1930’s. Jason Stranahan, a young physical education teacher who had played the game at Union College, introduced the game to his Manhasset High School students in 1932. Needing a local rival, he approached Garden City’s Jim Steen, who had played at Springfield College. The two were teammates on a club team and had taken graduate courses together. Steen began to teach the game to an eager group of athletes in 1934 and by 1935 Garden City fielded its first varsity team. Thus, a rivalry was born and the seeds to an exciting future were sown. Friends Academy began playing the game in the mid 1930’s and Howard Nordahl organized a team at Sewanhaka in 1938.
In 1934 a league was formed that included several PSAL schools and their Long Island counterparts. The Metropolitan-Long Island Lacrosse League became the governing body of local lacrosse until 1960 when, in its final season, the two divisions were named in honor of their pioneers, Stranahan and Steen. The novice division was named Nordahl after the founder of lacrosse at Sewanhaka. Besides the league squads, non-league games continued for many years against college freshman and jayvee teams, as had been done during the PSAL days. Additional games were scheduled against out-of-state teams and several local private military schools, including New York and Peekskill Military Academies.
World War II effectively eliminated lacrosse from the New York City public schools and slowed its growth on Long Island. The private military schools replaced the PSAL teams in the league shortly after the war years. Freeport, coached by Bill Ashley, and Mineola, under the guidance of Pete Kuchinsky, introduced the sport in 1949 and 1951, respectively. The first Long Island power in the sport was Sewanhaka High, coached by US Lacrosse Hall of Famer Bill Ritch. Garden City and Manhasset won several championships in the 1940’s, but the Indians took the game to a new level, winning 91 consecutive games (a national record that still stands) and securing eleven consecutive Metro-LI championships from 1949-1959.
The game grew throughout much of Nassau in the late 1950’s thanks to Ritch and Hofstra coach Howdy Myers. Huntington, in 1956, became the first Suffolk County team to play the sport. This rapid growth led Section Eight to take over administration of lacrosse in Nassau County in 1961, thus marking the end of the Metropolitan-Long Island League.