Mary Lou Bartram stands high in the stirrups of her hard-charging horse Joey, pointing her lance at three rings as small as a pencil point.

It's not for money or world fame that Bartram speeds her steed down a jousting course; it's just for good, clean competition.

"It's not cutthroat," said Bartram, 60, a former Maryland and National Jousting Champion. "There is no parimutuel betting, no scholarships, no commercialism attached to it at all."

In fact, she said, if you need jousting equipment, you make it yourself or go to a blacksmith. "It's a unique sport."

The Harford County resident is one of a devoted band of riders who travel Maryland's back roads to small towns like Havre de Grace, Trappe, Tolchester and LilyPons to practice the age-old sport of jousting.

Jousting, unbeknownst to many, is Maryland's official state sport.

Maryland became the first state to name an official state sport when it approved a bill recognizing jousting in 1962.

Although many people associate the sport with the bloody medieval form of combat, the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association promotes a simpler sport of skill and concentration that's been practiced in the state since 1839.

Mike Virts, 34, of Jefferson, the all-time leading jouster in the nation, said, "It's rich in tradition, pagentry and color, and it represents the state."

But he admits the legislature will consider this year -- as in many years before -- changing the state sport to lacrosse.

The jousting group "is ready to do battle" if the lacrosse advocates try to change the state sport, he said. "I don't think they have too much support," he added.

John Stude, a Baltimore lacrosse enthusiast, is spearheading an effort to change the state sport to lacrosse. He said two bills have been filed in the General Assembly to make the change.

"We are known as the hotbed of lacrosse in the State of Maryland," said Stude. "We think lacrosse better represents the state than jousting."

He added that more people in the state participate in lacrosse than in jousting.

Virts would agree, saying that jousting is not the easiest sport to master.

Considered one of the nation's top jousters, Virts said after learning the basics of jousting, the rider must spend hours and sometimes years of work honing his skills.

"It's a self-taught sport. You have to develop your own style," said Virts, who has won the state jousting title 10 times and the national title seven times in his 21 years of competition.

In jousting, professional-class riders attempt to lance three rings ranging in size from one inch to 1/4 inch -- "Life Saver-sized" -- suspended from an arch 6 feet, 9 inches high. All this while riding a steed on the 80-yard course in less than nine seconds.

"It's the hardest sport that I've tried to do," said Patty Ensor of Woodsboro. "You almost have to do it to understand the difficulty."

"I looked at it and it didn't seem that hard," said the 23-year-old, who learned the sport from her father.

Bartram agreed, saying, "The horse is about 90 to 95 percent of jousting. Your job is to get up in the stirrups, line up your lance in your right hand and aim it like a gun."

"Your job is to ride at it and not spear or jab at. You ride straight through it," said Bartram, who rides in the professional class.

The best riders in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, compete during the spring and summer jousting season, which will start again in March.