As folks have noticed the sparkling new hickory shaft on my goalie stick, I have been made aware of a great variety of opinion about such shafts. So, perhaps it would be good to delve a bit deeper than I did a couple of blogs ago. Here are seven things I read about wooden shafts online, and what I think about them:
1) Wooden shafts are illegal. I hear this a lot, but is it true? Nope. They are legal in the NCAA. To whit: “SECTION 18. The crosse shall be made of wood, laminated wood or synthetic material, with the head approximately perpendicular to the handle.” So it’s legal to use a whole wooden stick, not just a shaft. They may be “legal” in the MLL, but you can’t currently use one: “MLL Players use Warrior and Brine Lacrosse sticks and equipment, New Balance footwear and Cascade Lacrosse helmets.” Brine and Warrior don’t make wooden shafts. Are they legal in high school? NFHS rules are not available freely online, so far as I could tell, and I didn’t have $50 to download them, but a ref at Inside Lacrosse forums doesn’t mention shafts in his rundown of NFHS and NCAA rule differences.
2) Wooden shafts “suck”. This refined viewpoint apparently comes courtesy of ad copy from Warrior. I’m sure they’re above having an interest in what shaft you buy. Wooden shafts, aluminum shafts, composite shafts, what have you: each material is going to have its plusses and minuses. For certain players, wood shafts will suck; for others they will be the perfect match. As I said in a former piece, a finesse-type attackman might have good reason to prefer a super-light shaft, whereas a power attackman with the nasty job of running a gauntlet of defensive checks, might have good reason to prefer the density and energy absorption of wood.
3) Wooden shafts are too heavy. Let me admit to a certain biased point of view. Most of the time I played every shaft was wood, and what’s more, so was every stick head. The idea that it’s too difficult to play with wooden sticks therefore just isn’t a starter as far as I’m concerned. Too heavy? Awwww! Try getting in shape, wimp.
4) Wooden shafts are dangerous weapons. Again, every one of the sticks were “heavy” wood back in the day, so if this were true, one would have expected the bodies of the dead and dying to have littered the lacrosse fields. Au contraire, I don’t remember ever seeing anyone injured playing lacrosse, certainly not from being brained with a wooden stick. But let’s go ahead and explore further. Is wood dangerous ‘cause guys are clubbing other guys with them? It seems likely to me that guys are getting hurt by players wielding wooden shafts (if this contention is in fact true) not because of what the shafts are made of, but because of the kind of guy who’s attracted to a shaft with a “reputation”. If wood shafts were outlawed, in my view, these barbarians would be pounding on dudes with whatever other shaft seemed most fit for the purpose.
5) Wooden shafts break often, and breaks form dangerous shards. I only saw a wooden stick broken at the shaft once in all my playing days — and remember, every single shaft on all those fields, in all those scrimmages and games, was wood. As I recall, however, the stick broke into a spike worthy of Buffy, Vampire Slayer, but it didn’t separate enough to stick someone. That is, the splinters adhered one to another rather than coming loose. No shrapnel, in other words. There is no saying so far after the fact if the grain pattern was defective in the stick. If shafts were made today as they were then, with fine, straight-grain lumber, the probability of a shaft breaking into nasty sharp punji sticks that would be very low, given the small number of wood shafts in use compared to those made of other materials. There are many kinds of wood, each with different characteristics, grades and cuts. Each of these will make a difference in the strength, flexibility and weight of a shaft. I would say this point is viable, in light of how easy it would be to produce a substandard wooden shaft. Who knows what kind of crappy shafts guys are bringing onto the field from their garage?
6) Wooden shafts destroy metal and composite shafts. Don’t have data on this, just anecdote. But it’s perfectly plausible that this is true. Certainly they’re more likely to crunch than be crunched.
7) Wooden shafts feel good in the hands, and catching feels smoother. Hickory, the wood of choice for wooden sticks, polishes very nicely, and with a light, oil finish, has a surface that has almost ideal grip and friction. You should never need to tape up a wooden shaft. Does catching with one feel smoother? This is very much to one’s personal taste. But given the properties that make wood less prone to transmitting energy, it does stand to reason that the feel would be “smoother” catching the ball. On the other hand, some players might prefer to feel everything about the catch.
8) There is a spiritual dimension to using a wooden shaft. Absolutely, yes. Totally my opinion. Excuse me while I assume the full lotus position — o-om … o-om … o-om …
Frozen in a freak accident called life, Mark Bocek was only recently thawed. Upon his resuscitation, he discovered that the game of lacrosse had changed in a multitude of ways. Back when men were men and sticks were made from trees, Bocek was a four-year starter in goal for Bishop Dagwell Hall, now Oregon Episcopal School. Back in the swing, Mark coaches goal and D for North Seattle Lacrosse. He writes “The Gut Wall” for Emerald Lax, which now also appears on his own site, Gutwall.com. In the big picture, Bocek is a partner at Dreamhand Design Studios, a firm specializing in Web and print design and implementation.