In lacrosse, coaches are allowed once a game to ask officials to check the legality of an opposing player’s equipment.

But is there a wrong time, ethically, to ask for a stick check? That question is being debated in the high school lacrosse community after the Class A boys’ state championship game, won by Thornton Academy 8-7 in overtime on Saturday.

During the break before the start of overtime, Thornton Coach Ryan Hersey requested a check of the stick used by Falmouth High faceoff specialist Shane Allen – and officials ruled the stick illegal. Allen was assessed a three-minute penalty, giving Falmouth one fewer player on the field. More importantly, Thornton started the overtime with automatic possession rather than the teams fighting for the ball through a faceoff. CJ LaBreck of Thornton scored 42 seconds into the overtime.

Hersey said he’s seen comments on social media slamming him for engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct by asking for a stick check at that juncture of the game – and that his request taints Thornton’s second consecutive state title. Allen had won 15 of 18 faceoffs during the game.

“I strongly felt I had to make sure that he was playing with an illegal stick,” Hersey said Monday. “I wasn’t going to not take that opportunity and lose a game without knowing. That’s what I was thinking. If I don’t make that call and I haven’t checked that kid’s stick, how is that on me as a coach?”

Hersey said he first thought Allen’s stick might be illegal during a third-quarter play near the Thornton bench. Three Thornton players poked Allen’s stick but “the ball wasn’t going anywhere,” Hersey said.

The dimensions of a stick are defined in the rule book. The head of the stick must be a minimum of three inches wide at its narrowest point. Also, within the netting of the head, shooting strings cannot be more than four inches from the top of the head.

Josh Blaisdell, the game referee, said Monday that Allen’s stick was illegal in two ways: It measured 2 1/2 inches wide and had a shooting string five inches from the top. He said a low shooting string and a “pinched-in” sidewall help to keep the ball in the stick. Blaisdell is the chief of officials for the Maine Lacrosse Officials Association and also an NCAA game official who worked a Division I national semifinal this spring.

“I’m sure I’m going to take some flak for (asking for the stick check), and I’ve also gotten some support from other coaches saying, ‘You had to do it,’ ” Hersey said. “You could definitely argue he had a significant advantage with that stick.”

Hersey said if he had one regret it was that he didn’t ask for the stick check at the start of the fourth quarter.

After the game Falmouth Coach David Barton said the timing of the stick check bothered him.

“Unfortunately they waited until desperate times (to ask for a check),” Barton said Saturday. “It’s a faceoff guy’s stick. For 48 minutes our guy takes a beating … It’s just too bad they waited until then to check it.”

“I personally don’t agree with a stick check late in the game,” said Don Glover, who retired this spring after 28 years and over 300 wins as Brunswick’s coach. “If you have a question for a stick’s legality, you call it early. You can’t wait on that as a trump card. Let the game be played out in full. That’s my personal opinion.”

North Yarmouth Academy Coach Sam Manders, also a high school and NCAA game official, said Thornton’s stick check request was the hot topic at a pickup game among coaches Sunday.

“I was in the vast minority that thought it was a brilliant coaching decision,” Manders said. “Everyone’s in a huff about Thornton getting ill-gotten gains. What about all those ill-gotten gains of all those faceoff possessions he got with that illegal stick?”

Faceoffs are a critical aspect of lacrosse. Taken at the beginning of each quarter and after each goal, they determine what team gains possession. While taking the faceoff, players routinely lean and push on their sticks, trying to gain a physical advantage. It’s not uncommon to see the plastic head bending and twisting under the pressure.

Hersey, Blaisdell and the other coaches said they agree a stick head could become misshapen during play. But as Blaisdell said, the placement of a shooting string wouldn’t change during a game.

On Monday, Barton said that Allen – like most faceoff specialists – stuffs a softball into his stick head after taking a faceoff to realign the sidewalls and make sure they remain at a legal width. But after taking a faceoff with 22 seconds left in regulation, Allen forgot to use the softball, Barton said.

“The thing that frustrates me the most is this narrative that we or Shane were cheating all day,” Barton said. “Shane’s stick was deemed legal at the start of the game and throughout the game. His stick was never deemed illegal before.

“I know whatever I say is going to come off as sour grapes. I don’t want to take away from Thornton’s effort. But it was a 75-degree day on turf. That stick morphs and bends.”

 


Comments are not available on this story.