Maryland's Got Game

By Dezman Jackson


The state of Maryland enjoys a rich legacy of competitive sports. No, we won’t count crabbing among them this time, but perhaps you are familiar with our two-time Super-Bowl-winning National Football League team the Baltimore Ravens. Perhaps you might also know of the National Baseball League’s Baltimore Orioles. You may have even heard of the world-class Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps or Pete Sampras, a competitive tennis player, both hailing from the state. In this post, we will explore perhaps some lesser-known sports that first put Maryland in the game.

A Path Paved With Footprints

From May to October of each year, one can find a particular type of equestrian  tournament going on in various parts of the state. Jousting began in the medieval period as a way of training cavalry for combat. In this exercise, two combatants on horseback who hold long pointed stick-like devices called lances would charge at each other and attempt to knock each other off of the horse. It would later become a general sport and became popular in Maryland in early colonial times. It became the state’s official sport in 1962. 

The modern version of the sport has evolved from hand to hand combat to ring tournaments in which players, called knights and maids to maintain a flavor of tradition, gallop their horses through an 80- yard course attempting to score points by spearing with their lances a series of small rings suspended above the ground. Players have eight seconds to complete the course. Competitors are often dressed in colorful costumes during the tournaments.


One of the fastest growing games in America, lacrosse has it’s early routes with native American tribes in the Great Lakes region. This game incorporates components of basketball, soccer and hockey. The game has 10 players on the field at a time, consisting of a goalie, three attackers, three midfielders and three defenders. The game derives its name from the French crosier, as a stick used in the game was thought to resemble a bishop’s staff. On a basic level, a long-handled stick with a net pocket on the end is used to throw, catch and scoop a rubber ball. Players attempt to get the ball into their opponent’s goal while keeping it out of their own goal.

Maryland was among the first to establish the game as a competitive sport at the collegiate level, having fielded its first team at the University of Maryland in 1910 and the first women’s team in the country in 1926 at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. Remaining one of the powerhouses of the sport today, Johns Hopkins University represented the United States in lacrosse at the summer Olympic Games in 1928 and 1932. Lacrosse has continued to balloon over the years in Maryland, with middle and high school clubs and teams at institutions such as the US Naval Academy and Loyola University.

Taking A Quack At The Pins

Finally, a variation on ten-pin, duck pin bowling began in Baltimore in 1900 as an alternative to conventional bowling when most alleys were closed down during summers. This form of the game differs from the traditional in that the balls are much smaller (about 5 inches in diameter), the duck pins are smaller (a little over 9 inches), You get 3 rolls in a ten frame game and there is no bonus for knocking down all ten pins with 3 balls.

You might ask why is it called duck pin? Well, early on as the game was being fine-tuned in Baltimore, the owners of Diamond Alleys, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, also baseball managers and avid duck hunters, commented that the pins flying around looked like a “flock of flying ducks”. Hence the name stuck and winter leagues would be established in Baltimore, DC and other parts of the East Coast. I should also note that, besides baseball, this was Babe Ruth’s favorite game. If you have the opportunity, try this variation of bowling next time you hit the lanes!