The young fellow was trotting across the Mall on a sunny Sunday afternoon, minding his own business, when three men ran up and began to beat on him with sticks. The victim looked around for help, but before anyone could get there the men had whipped him to the ground and run away.
A mounted Park Policeman looked on bemused. "If that happened outside the white lines it would be felonious assault," he said.
Within the lines it was merely lacrosse, and the mayhem had drawn cheers even from several of the victim's Washington Lacrosse Club teammates.
"If you cannot run and will not pass you shall suffer," one of them chided the young man when he limped off the field after the change of possession.
"Aaah, stuff it," was the reply, illustrating perhaps the second most striking feature of the game, which is that the players tend to be preppies or proles: stout men of Hahvad or boyos from Balmer.
Your preppie, who generally learned the game in college, tends to dwell on the asthetics of the stickwork and the patterns of attack and defense. Your prole, who more often than not is from the Baltimore area, has probably been playing since he was six and talks about gutwork: intimidation, hard checking, nonstop running.
Both styles are displayed nearly every Saturday and Sunday from March through June on the Mall (the field is on the south side of the Reflecting Pool) and on campuses from Howard to Johns Hopkins. Hopkins dominates lacrosse the way UCLA used to command basketball, drawing not only veterans from local little leagues but top stickman from all over the Northeast.
Club lacrosse flourishes here because of all those Ivy League graduates drawn to national politics and government service plus the Maryland players who will not give up the game so long as legs and lungs last.
Last Sunday's game between The Washington and Glen Burnie clubs illustrated the difference between the intellectual and physical approach. Although WLC is by no means all-preppie nor GBLC all-prole, their styles of play and dress suggest as much.
The Washington players all were dressed smartly in red and paid close attention to their coach, who said things like: "Hey! I'm the only one who's allowed to badmouth the ref, okay?" The men of Glen Burnie were dressed in whatever and tended to wander off while their coach was making his points.
During the first half Washington held possession most of the time, using disciplined patterns and superior teamwork. But when Glen Burnie got the ball its generally more skillful players also tended to get a score, and the teams were tied at 6 at halftime.
Glen Burnie came out swarming in the third quarter and very quickly went three goals up, largely because of splendid passing that caught Washington flatfooted. Frustrated Washington players began to foul -- there are rules -- and with a man or two usually in the penalty box were out-played all the more.
In the fourth quarter Washington got hold of itself and succeeded in imposing a rational pattern on the game. If there were any justice they would have led 13-12 with two minutes to play, but just like in real life power overwhelmed finesse and the final score was 14-11.
It all left the players limping (towards beer kegs) and passersby confused. But the Indians who invented the game never would have recognized it. They kept score with corpses.