Hope everyone is enjoying the off-season. Given that it is the off-season, for this week’s post I’m taking a break from those tasty lacrosse goalie tips and delving into the history of the lacrosse helmet.
At the end of the 2017 NCAA season, Cascade released their model S helmet and I think the lacrosse world joined me in saying – “wow, these things are nice”.
Lacrosse is the oldest team sport in America with evidence of versions of the game being played in the 1600’s in northeast Canada and in the US by Native American tribes like the Onondaga.
No helmets were necessary for those boys.
But it’s now the year 2017 and helmets looks like the image above. So what was the progression?
This post will outline the history of the sport’s helmets from the bare heads of the Onondaga tribe in 1600’s to the Cascade S helmets worn by the NCAA Champion Maryland Terrapins in 2017.
The No Helmet Era
Lacrosse historians know that the 1st version of our game was played by Native American to settle disputes, to toughen young warriors for combat, for recreation, and for religious purposes.
These early lacrosse players did not wear any helmets, let alone any pads.
The sport of lacrosse continued without helmets for quite some time.
Lacrosse appeared at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri and at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, England.
No player on those teams wore helmets. Although the referees wore some impressive suit / knee high sock / mustache combos.
Early versions of the game resembled women’s lacrosse of a few years ago where the speed of the game, the contact rules, and the shallow sticks didn’t justify players wearing helmets. That said, today’s women’s game is speeding up and some lightweight head protection is being introduced like the Cascade LX:
The Leather Helmet Era
The 1928 Olympics held in Amsterdam, Netherlands was the first documented use of helmets in the sport of lacrosse.
Lacrosse was downgraded to an exhibition sport at these games and featured just 3 teams representing Canada, Great Britain, and the United States.
Only the American team wore helmets as seen in the photo below.
Here’s another shot of players labeled “Annapolis lacrosse” where we see the leather protective helmets along with an impressive crowd size for a lax game.
So here we have the first lacrosse helmet, a leather contraption with no face mask designed to provide just a little more protection to the dome.
A “protective hat” might be a more appropriate name than a lacrosse helmet.
The Helmets Get a Face Mask
By the 1940’s it appears as if players were tired of getting hit in the face with the ball or checks. Whimps.
In this shot of a Naval cadet you see the primitive face mask attached to the leather helmet.
This version of the lacrosse helmet also contains ear flaps that fully cover the side of the players head and a chinstrap to keep the helmet on the head. The material of choice is still leather with a metal (likely iron) face mask.
The visor of the helmet of the helmet is still intact.
These early versions now resemble old torture devices but they served the purpose of protecting early lacrosse domes from collisions, checks, and errant shots.
The “Bucket” Helmet
Around the 1960’s a company by the name of Bacharach Raisin was the first to start producing the “bucket” lacrosse helmets.
The leather was replaced with a harder plastic exterior and a soft padded interior. The face mask was beefed up so balls wouldn’t enter.
This helmet was innovative in that it had suspension. Which served to “cradle” the skull away from the foam shell. Whereas previous helmets had leather that sat right against the head, these helmets have plastic that is away from the skull, thus providing more protection.
Straps of fabric formed a pattern inside the helmet. They absorbed and distributed the impact better, and they allowed for ventilation. It was a breakthrough from the pure leather helmets of years before.
These helmets were also well known for having strings in the back to tighten the helmet.
Anyone who is old enough to remember using these helmets as a youth will probably recall kids love of pulling on these strings to harass their teammates.
Lacrosse goalies from this era will probably recall the hard foam extension that served as the throat protector but resembled a flip-flop.
All throughout the 80’s the Bacharach Raisin dominated the lacrosse scene. All the top college programs were using this helmet.
This was my first helmet when I started playing lacrosse and I have some very fine memories of strapping on this huge, heavy beast.
Brine even got in on this style helmet producing a Bacharach style lid in the 80’s that looked like this:
Cascade Bursts on to the Scene
In the mid to late 90’s Cascade burst onto the lacrosse helmet scene with their original Cascade.
The big boxy design of the Bacharach Raisin was replaced by a sleeker shell. And boy did it look and feel good.
Even though many claim the Cascade didn’t protect as well as its predecessors, there’s no question they gave the helmet a much better look, a lighter feel, and set in motion a trend for lacrosse helmets to become just as stylish as they were protective.
College players like Syracuse’s Casey Powell instantly switched over to the newer, sleeker design of the Cascade that dominated lacrosse player’s heads in the late 90’s.
There were (and continue to be) other lacrosse helmet manufacturers but for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the progression of the Cascade helmet line to paint a picture of how the lacrosse helmet has advanced through the years.
After the original Cascade helmet came the Cascade C2 were the face mask and chin piece of the helmet becomes more aerodynamic.
After the Cascade C2 came the Cascade CLH2. Not a drastic change in look but you can see the visor no longer juts out beyond the face mask.
One innovative element of the CLH2 was the adjustable fit system, something Cascade called the SPRfit adjustable ratchet which allowed you to change sizes and get the helmet perfectly fitted in seconds.
Realizing that most concussions occur from ill-fitting helmets, Cascade input an adjustable strap into the back of the helmet to help achieve that snug fit for heads that may be in between sizes.
Sometime in 2010 the Gaits and UVA lacrosse thought this style of helmet would be a good idea –
It wasn’t and it quickly flopped.
Around 2009 Cascade launched the CPX helmet and the CPro:
The Cascade CPX utilized 3-D Form Foam that molds to your head and helped with protection. They also had something called the Wedge-X system to help with fit.
For the CPX, Cascade reworked the facemask to provide players with more vision. The bars are spaced further apart to give more vision while still providing enough protection.
The visor becomes more stylish and throat part extends down further to protect players necks a little more. However the shell essentially remained the same design on the exterior compared to its predecessors.
Here was the CPro which was very similar in looks and features to the CPX. All I know is CPX had a one size fits all feature while this did not. Although many preferred the fit of the CPro.
Then came the CPX-R:
With the CPX-R Cascade introduced a sleeker shell along with the tail fin. The fin according to Cascade was supposed to move the center of balance of the helmet towards the center and give it a more balanced feel.
I don’t know if that works or not but I think we can all degree – the tail fin looks dope. It gives the helmet a nice aerodynamic look and took player’s tilt game to a whole new level.
The shell also allowed for mohawk and rear decals so teams could really customize their helmets with colored visors, chins, and decals.
Next in the line of Cascade’s brand came the Cascade Pro 7:
The Cascade Pro 7 helmet was Cascade’s first attempt at fusing the lacrosse visor to the shell of the helmet for a more rigid frame and a streamlined look. This was very successful as all future lacrosse helmets would continue this trend of a solid piece for the shell and visor.
Protection and looks wise the Pro 7 was a huge jump forward from its predecessors like the Cascade CLH2.
Many people have compared the Pro7 to the CPX-R:
Cascade took a big step forward with the release of the CPV-R helmet. In addition to making the helmet look even nicer than its predecessor, there’s a lot of new functional features like a new liner system and downward sloping face mask for increased visibility and enhanced sweet looks.
The helmet continues the tail fin designed introduced with the CPX-R. This is a trend we see Cascade continue with on future designs.
Just when you thought lacrosse helmets couldn’t look any sweeter, here comes the R in 2013:
The Cascade R was also loaded with other features.
The dual SevenTech and PoronXRD liner system addresses both high and low energy impacts. A HardTail SPRfi system, coupled with custom jaw pad options created a system to provide better helmet fit. The exclusive SuperMonoTM R Shell, R-Series chin and mask created better peripheral vision and also a more rigid system for frontal impact management.
The helmet was really revolutionary when released in 2013.
Here’s a comparison of the Cascade R helmet to the CPX-R:
Lacrosse Helmets of 2017
That brings us to the helmets of today.
There’s no doubt that today’s helmets offer the best in design and function. Some say protection has gone slightly down in favor of style but there’s no doubt the helmets protect better than the bucket helmets of the 80’s and 90’s.
As alluded to in the intro of this post, a few months back Cascade released the Cascade S:
The shells of lacrosse helmets are now made of injection-molded plastic such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic. Some helmets are also made of the same plastics as motorcycle helmets, such as polycarbonate plastics.
The facemasks, on the other hand, are made of strong, lightweight metals like titanium. The inside of the shell is lined with a polypropylene or other foam padding.
The Cascade S features something called the vision bar which essentially means they’ve made the top bar players look through flatter to improve vision.
I hope you enjoyed that brief history of the lacrosse helmet.
Interesting to see how the game has evolved from its primitive days into the game today that requires full head protection and also requires looking good while protecting.
Of course the modern lacrosse player needs that dome protected but he also needs some serious TILT.
I chose to focus a lot on the Cascade brand in this post but companies like STX, Warrior, and others have also produced some great and innovative helmets over the years. Cascade just happens to be my favorite and the industry standard, in my opinion.
Will be interesting to see where lacrosse helmets go in the future this of this game.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Any key elements I missed on the history of the lacrosse helmet? Also, I’m not a lacrosse helmet historian so if I screwed up some details please let me know so I can fix.
Lacrosse is my passion! The game has given me so much and this blog is my way of giving back to the lax community. Specifically the most bad a$$ part of that community - the goalies! After learning to play goalie from scratch, I wanted to create a site where I could share what I learned with others so they too can become champions in the crease and in life. Learn more about Coach Damon.
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