In a shocking contest, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) Morgan State University Men’s Lacrosse defeated the number one ranked Division I team Washington and Lee University 8-7 on March 9, 1975. The win was a landmark for Black athletes in the predominantly white sport of lacrosse. In 1970, Morgan State became the first HBCU to field a lacrosse team and the team rose to the highest level of men’s lacrosse, reaching the top ten rankings four different times in the next ten years.
During a time of racial tension in the United States, Morgan State University, the largest HBCU in Maryland, pulled together a Division II men’s lacrosse team. The underdog team used old football jerseys as uniforms and struggled to scrap together a sufficient amount of helmets and sticks, while the predominantly white rosters of many college lacrosse teams were financed by schools with ample assets. While the non-traditional team had limited resources and an unorthodox playing style, a fiery passion drove Morgan State towards rapid success.
The Morgan State Bears advanced into the top ten rankings while defeating historically dominant Division I teams. According to “The Baltimore Sun,” the team earned victories against Georgetown University, Notre Dame University, Villanova University, and Michigan State University. Morgan State was reaching the highest peaks in lacrosse for Black athletes since legendary National Football League Running Back Jim Brown was named an All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse University in 1957.
According to “The Undefeated,” Morgan State Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Chip Silverman used his friendship with Washington and Lee Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Jack Emmer to schedule games between the two teams despite the low expectations for the Bears. In the 1974 season, the Bears played against the top Division I team Washington and Lee, falling 16-4. Washington and Lee placed second in the end-of-year tournament that year. Described as a heartbreaking loss, Morgan State was eager for another shot at the top-ranked competitor, squaring off against Washington and Lee once again in 1975.
With two back-to-back semi-final appearances and a 28 game winning streak, Washington and Lee, a team comprised of white players, was ranked the best team in college lacrosse at the beginning of the 1975 season. It had been three years since Washington and Lee had been defeated at a home game before matching up with Morgan State on March 9, 1975.
At Wilson Field in Lexington, Virginia with a capacity of 3,000 spectators, Morgan State took the field against the favorites, the Washington and Lee Generals. The two teams fought closely and the first half ended with the Generals leading the Bears 5-2. With a powerful burst on offense, Morgan State amassed six goals in the second half of play and halted Washington and Lee’s threatening offense, only allowing two more goals. The Bears emerged victorious, earning an 8-7 win and stunning the entire lacrosse community.
The team was cut from the athletics program at Morgan State in 1981 as a result of insufficient funding, but Morgan State lacrosse left a lasting legacy, according to “The Baltimore Sun.” As pioneers in the game of lacrosse for Black athletes across the country, the team proved that success for Black athletes at the highest level of the game was possible even without an abundance of resources. The team paved the way for Black lacrosse players to integrate a predominantly white sport and created a story of inspiration for those to follow.
Despite efforts to improve diversity within the sport, an overwhelming majority of professional lacrosse players are white, although lacrosse was originally created by Indigenous peoples. According to the National College Athletic Association participation report in 2015, 85.5% of men’s lacrosse players are white while just 3.5% of them are Black across all collegiate teams. While the demographic of athletes is heavily disproportionate, the number of Black lacrosse players have increased: the amount of Black players rose from 1.5% to 3.5% in 2015. The cost to play the sport, which includes expensive equipment and team fees that allow lacrosse players to get recruited and play collegiately, contributes to the lack of diversity in the sport, according to “The Undefeated.” Organizations such as Harlem Lacrosse in New York City and City Lax in Denver are currently making efforts to diversify lacrosse by increasing accessibility and reaching out to lower income communities. As the lacrosse community grapples with and attempts to remedy its lack of diversity, Black athletes continue to strive to reach new heights in the footsteps of the Morgan State University Bears.