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If you like basketball, lacrosse offers zone and man-to-man defenses, fast breaks and set plays, and its basic offensive maneuver is pass and screen away from the ball.

If you like soccer, lax has the precision passes and the ability to bring spectators to their feet with a goal -- except that fans find themselves on their feet 20 times a game.

If you like ice hockey, the action and even the terminology are much the same in lacrosse, from face-offs to man advantages to setups behind the net.

And if you're a boy who likes football, you get to put on a helmet and pads. (The difference, says former Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr., is that lax "is not 11 guys coming out of a huddle knowing what's about to happen. It's more fanciful, imaginative and open.")

As parents discover that lacrosse is more exciting than soccer, cheaper than ice hockey and not as dangerous as football, the game is getting a closer look. If they're not careful, lacrosse's promoters risk setting up the sport for an almost impossible task: Scroll down the long list of what ails youth sports, and in most cases lacrosse seems to offer an antidote. Youth lax programs don't hesitate to ban zones and long sticks on defense, switch players from position to position or do whatever else it takes to keep kids engaged without changing the essence of the game. At all-day lax "jamborees" the games are almost incidental to the picnicking and socializing. US Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport, also holds annual Youth Festivals where 15-and-under and 13-and-under games fill a dozen fields but no one officially keeps score.

In fact, while youth baseball coaches expect 10-year-olds to hit the cutoff man and turn double plays, lacrosse makes only modest demands on a beginner. "At its simplest, lacrosse is shoveling," Morrow says. "If you can scoop the ball off the ground and run fast, you don't even need to know how to cradle [the wrist action that enables a player to control the ball in his stickhead]. You can get a shot off before you lose the ball." Moreover, at a time when kids feel pressure from coaches and parents to specialize in one sport, lacrosse has long encouraged the renaissance approach. "I've never heard a soccer coach say, 'I want him to play lacrosse too,'" says Dan Corcoran, a youth coach in Connecticut, "but all the time you'll hear lacrosse coaches say something like, 'You can see his toughness from playing hockey.'


 "To penetrate the Indian game, one must enter a world of spiritual belief and magic"-Thomas Vennum, American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War