For Penn men’s lacrosse, it’s not all about the stick
Penn men’s lacrosse players question whether expensive equipment is necessary
February 22, 2012, 11:14 pm · Updated February 23, 2012, 11:06 pm·
Michael Chien | DP
Junior Rob Fitzpatrick and senior John Conneely couldn’t care less about their lacrosse sticks.
“It’s not the bow. It’s more the Indian,” said Conneely, who plays attack for 17th-ranked Penn.
While lacrosse stick shaft and head designs vary only slightly, prices range from $30 to nearly $200.
Conneely’s high-end stick is a gift from team sponsors, but the STX Surgeon head and Sci-Ti Pro shaft cost $99 and $183 online, respectively.
Conneely began playing lacrosse in the eighth grade — fairly late for the sport. As a result, he says he was never part of the youth lacrosse culture in which, much like the one that surrounds basketball sneakers, chasing the freshest and most expensive equipment designs is a must.
“There’s kids that have six, seven, eight sticks that they really never use,” fellow attack Fitzpatrick explained.
Among the Quakers, he claims the trend is mostly outdated, but some players still adhere to it.
“We have bins [for players in the locker room] that just have like 20 [sticks] in them.”
David Gross, Commissioner of Major League Lacrosse, has personal experience with this behavior. At the Ivy Sports Symposium at Penn in November, Gross told the audience that when his son started playing lacrosse, he desired a high-quality shaft, despite the fact that he was far too young to be strong enough for it to affect his game.
Gross believes that social demands to buy high-end equipment can be problematic because it makes the sport seem more exclusive than it actually is.
“There isn’t a high cost of entry for a player to get involved in the sport,” he wrote in an email. “What often happens is kids push their parents into the more expensive items after seeing what their friends use. There is a great deal of peer pressure to have the top of the line product.”
While all heads are made of the same plastic material, lacrosse equipment manufacturers like Brine, STX and Reebok constantly vary designs for heads and shafts in an attempt to market to young players, while keeping the price of entry-level sticks low.
Brine, for example, sells 22 different heads and 15 separate handles. Sticks vary in shape, design and rigidity, but for less experienced players, the difference can be trivial. Sometimes for a beginner, a more expensive stick can actually be detrimental.
For parents, it probably does not help that the cheapest head is given the slightly pejorative name ‘Recruit,’ while a costlier option is called the ‘Encore X Block Party 2.’
Debbie Stevens, a purchasing manager at Lacrosse International in nearby Downingtown, Pa., says lacrosse stick culture is a predictable and almost exclusively male phenomenon.
When boys first start out, she said, they usually purchase a basic stick, but after a year of being engrossed in the sport, they tend to desire a high-end one. She thinks that much of this tendency can be attributed to magazines like Lacrosse and Inside Lacrosse, which feature ads for the latest designs.
“There’s always that one kid who wants the best stick, even though they’re eight years old,” she said.
“There’s not a huge difference between the lower-end and the higher-end sticks,” she said, explaining that the price disparities are mainly the result of the money companies spend on research. “Manufacturers are always trying to come out with something different.”
Conneely and Fitzpatrick do concede that, at their level of play, a high-end shaft is significantly less likely to break. But for anyone with a younger brother starting out in the sport, it would be a good idea to offer the same advice as Fitzpatrick.
“It’s all made out of the same stuff,” he said.