Saturday, August 27, 2005

Joust: doused, oust? groused! espoused.

It's a great formula for a story. A popular pastime nearly dies out, a casualty of changing times. Then it comes charging back, and even makes it onto national TV. The Washington Post has a good article about the resurgence of Maryland's official state sport, jousting. After some hard times, jousting will be featured on ESPN this weekend.

Almost any story about a subculture will mention a feud — it's practically mandatory. It is best that the dispute be ancient, acrimonious, and, to outsiders, petty:
The long-standing rivalry between jousting and lacrosse fans in Maryland has grown increasingly bitter.
Here's how it happened: jousting's flame dimmed and almost died, while lacrosse's shone brighter. Lacrosse fans wanted the state to honor their sport in an official way, by naming lacrosse the state sport, thereby ousting jousting. Jousting fans resisted. Last year the legislature reached a compromise which satisfied none of the disputants: jousting stays Maryland's official state sport, and lacrosse is now the official state team sport. Today's story has lots of snippy quotes from both sides.

Back in the tournament ring: I thought Maryland jousters would armor up and try to spit each other on their lances. But they do not. They don't even get medieval on lacrosse players. Instead, the Post explains,
The object is simple: Spear three rings, hanging from arches set up on an 80-yard course, with a lance while on horseback. Accomplishing that is no easy feat. The rings range from 1¾ inches to a quarter of an inch across (about the size of a LifeSavers candy), and the rider must complete the course within nine seconds.
That sounds a lot more difficult than spearing each other, and less fun to watch. But I can understand why jousting became less violent. It had to change, because the old way was cruel to the ponies. Water polo changed for the same reason.


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