A History of the Denison Lacrosse Program

By Steve Nazaruk '73

The 2013 season marked the 60th anniversary of Denison lacrosse. Founded in 1953, Denison is one of Division III's most established and successful programs. With an overall record 575-244-3 and 70% all-time winning percentage, its consistency and longstanding tradition of excellence arguably make it one of the top 10 programs in the country.

  • Among programs that have played 450 or more games (about 25 seasons), the Big Red's winning percentage is bested only by 10-time national champion Salisbury and Gettysburg.

  • In the last 10 years,
    • Denison has made eight trips to the NCAA tournament. Only five teams have been invited more often.
    • Denison is among only seven teams that have been ranked in the USILA Top 20 at season's end seven or more times.
  • In the last 5 years:
    • Denison is one of only 10 teams that have been ranked in LaxPower.com's Top 15 four or more times at season's end.
    • The Big Red is among just seven teams that have been ranked in the USILA Top 20 at season's end in each year.
    • DU is one of only eight teams with a winning percentage of 79% or higher.

A Tradition of Excellence for More Than 60 Years

It took just two sticks and a little pushing from a few East Coast boys to start a 60-year lacrosse tradition at Denison. Close your eyes and picture it, framed like something out of an old movie. A couple of hale lads on a sunny afternoon in the fall of '48, the golden light of early autumn casting shadows on the grass outside a dormitory. Two freshmen tossing a ball. Nothing unusual there. Only it's not a football, not even a game of catch with a hardball and gloves. They're using ... sticks?

"We drew a crowd," Dick Bonesteel '52 says, chuckling at a memory six decades old. "Most of them had never seen a lacrosse stick." Bonesteel and John McCarter '52 were Ohio boys but had spent their prep years at the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. When they headed for college, they brought with them an invasive species: this sport with a funny name, something like hockey with an airborne component, or rugby with sticks.

Most of a lifetime has passed, and lacrosse at Denison long ago matured into a fixture, one of the best small-school programs in the nation. But 60 years after the university adopted it as a varsity sport, it's worth remembering the game's unlikely origins at Denison: a university that wasn't interested and a group of players (and coaches) who wasn't entirely sure what they were doing but stuck with it anyway.

Enthusiasm trumped inexperience for the eight players Bonesteel and McCarter recruited for the first Denison lacrosse squad, a neophyte gang that dubbed itself the Granville Lacrosse Club (GLC) when the administration denied it official affiliation with the Big Red. It proved to be just a minor obstacle, as did the initial lack of a full roster, when they took the field against Kenyon for their debut match in the spring of '49. "We had no goalie," Bonesteel recalls. "We had to borrow one from Kenyon."

The April 14, 1950, edition of The Denisonian advertised the return of the GLC that spring as "merely a group of interested men who gather together to play nearby colleges in informal lacrosse matches." The media coverage, even if it was only three paragraphs on page 6, conferred a level of legitimacy on the second-year program.

Ohio State and Oberlin joined Kenyon on the schedule that spring, with home matches played on the Granville High School football field. Most of the '49 squad was back, and there were a half dozen or so newcomers, including a freshman who had taken the same prep school route that Bonesteel and McCarter had. Springfield, Ohio native Edward "Bud" Miller '54 arrived at DU in the fall of 1950, and if he didn't miss the frigid winters from his time at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, he was happy to find at least one reminder of New England: lacrosse.

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