You know that they play lacrosse even before you see them charging after a ground ball or rocketing a bounce shot into the far corner of the cage: Lacrosse players have a certain “swag” about them.
Perhaps it’s the jaunt in their step or the grin on their faces; more likely it’s the massive amount of gear they sport on and off Renzie Lamb Turf Field. Yes, they often tote their long poles and trick sticks into the dining halls, but they also make themselves known by the taglines emblazoned on their sweatpants, sweatshirts and even socks.
In this way, the sport is as much about how you look as it is about how you play: Equal emphasis is placed upon game stats as is hair length or style of turf shoes. As senior team member and lifetime laxer Sam Hargrove ’12 noted, “Lacrosse is a perennial power in the swag world, not only at Williams, but all over.” And this off-the-field appearance, Hargrove notes, can determine game-time success. “People say you have to look good to play well,” he explained, “and that’s a theory most people really buy into.” Senior and women’s lacrosse tri-captain Margie Fulton ’12 couldn’t agree more. “Lacrosse is 99 percent about how you look,” she said. And, after a quick pause, she added, “Probably more.”
So what exactly are the components of a laxer’s closet? “We get sweat suits, shorts and a pinny for practice,” men’s co-captain Tim Goggins ’12 began. “Every year we also get gloves and elbow pads.” But, as Goggins pointed out, these are just part of a list of athletically-oriented, school-endorsed gear that also includes socks and rain gear. This equipment is checked out by players for the duration of the season and returned at its close. “We also get shirts [that] we pay for individually,” added Paul Taylor ’14, a second-year defenseman. But that’s not all. “The Patagonias were another extra thing we did … a bunch of us went in on a group order off of their website,” Taylor said. Outside of the necessities, though, the “swag” is paid for by the players themselves. Though the team does get special team discounts from lacrosse supliers, “all of the items are paid for the players,” Goggins said. Occasionally, however, the students do receive gifts; last season, Taylor recalled, they received team hats and cow print shorts as a gift from the team parents.
The women receive a similar cornucopia of swag. “We usually get school-issued jackets, windpants, socks, mesh shorts and gray t-shirts, which we have to return at the end of the season,” Fulton said. The majority of this gear does not really belong to the players; penalties for snagging it are maximal, she noted. “We get charged an obscene amount of money for losing even a sock.” This doesn’t keep Fulton and company from their target swag level, though. “We shell out the big bucks to look good,” she explained of her team’s ethos. Similar to their male counterparts, the women explored their own options for extra apparel. “This season we ordered (and paid for ourselves) turf shoes, a yellow long-sleeved dry-fit [shirt], a white short-sleeved dry-fit [shirt], black shorts, white Under Armour, black sweatpants, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a gray crewneck sweatshirt.” Although, the purpose of the gear isn’t simply to keep players looking fly in Schapiro and Schow: The women’s team members all buy the same winter jacket to keep the team looking uniform on the sidelines.
While the men’s gear seems to stay largely unchanged from year to year, the women “like to change it up,” explained Grace Wilson ’14, a sophomore defender. “Margie [Fulton] designed and picked out all of gear for this year, but we got all new turf shoes and they have neon laces, which is pretty sweet.” Even though those tennis ball-yellow laces will look fantastic darting across the turf, they don’t top the charts for Wilson, who instead dubbed their “new long-sleeved yellow dry-fits” as her favorite module of swag. “In general we have some pretty great stuff,” she concluded. The men’s team echoed Wilson’s contentment, and is largely satisfied with its threads. “We’ve gotten some fresh stuff,” midfielder Ernest Higginbotham ’14 told me. “I’m really happy with the amount of gear we’ve ordered.”
The force responsible for designing these items and coordinating deals with top lacrosse suppliers remains a myestery, though Jake Stark ’14, a returning midfielder, speculated that “it’s mainly the coaches and captains.” And, so far as we can tell, the system seems to be working well. “I don’t know a whole lot about how they pick out swag, but they kept it pretty simple this year … looks good overall,” Stark said. The bottom line is that lacrosse, recognized as a hugely aesthetic sport, is attempting to recreate its off-the-turf image here at the College. Whether that be by ordering new sweatshirts or talking through some team funding habits, only time will tell.
Goggins highlights the point that as spring athletes, more gear is needed to help lacrosse athletes accommodate climate changes during workouts. “I think lacrosse receives a lot of gear out of necessity. It is important that we dress alike for practices,” he said. Fulton stressed other practical concerns, such as having enough team gear to live in during spring break training trips; Higginbotham also emphasized how much time the players spend in the clothing during the spring.
There certainly are logical reasons for the accumulation of lacrosse team swag. More importantly, however, swag is transcendent of necessity and central to the experience of competitive college lacrosse. “For some reason, gear is a big thing in lacrosse,” Goggins said. His teammate Hargrove agreed, saying that “swag provides an immediacy within the aesthetic that can convey confidence and power.” Everything from helmet color (on which the men’s team recently had a vote – yellow won) to eye black has huge implications for athletic performance. “That and the infamous flow factor [long hair] all feed into the belief that, in lacrosse, you must look the part,” Hargrove said.
From facing off to clearing out, the lacrosse players always promise a spectacle. “Be sure to check out our fresh gear this Saturday,” Goggins said, referencing the men’s season-opening game this weekend. As an avid fan of the sport, I’d recommend coming about 20 minutes early. The best part is the pre-game fashion show, of course.