Comedian Robin Williams once quipped “I thought lacrosse was what you find in a church.” But lacrosse’s niche status seems to be a thing of the past — in fact, many national organizations call it the fastest growing sport in the country. A new movie called “Crooked Arrows” is opening in select theaters this weekend and nationwide June 1, and, perhaps not surprisingly, considering the Big Red’s long and successful history with the sport, this film can trace some of its roots to the practice and playing fields at Denison.
Todd Baird ’91, a practicing radiologist in Richmond, Va., is the man behind both the idea and script of the movie. Baird began playing lax as a ninth-grader and continued as a J.V. player for the Big Red.
Baird says, “Sadly, the only record I set at Denison was for most unsuccessful attempts trying out for the varsity squad — four!” He adds, “But I had a great experience playing J.V. ball and as one of the player/coaches of the J.V. team.” And even though he didn’t make the varsity team, Baird never lost his passion for the sport.
But let’s back up a minute — just how does a radiologist in Richmond get a script for a major movie accepted in Hollywood? The answer is that Baird took a bit of a winding road to medical school.
After graduating from Denison with a major in biology and moving on to get his master’s in neuroscience, Baird took a little time off to live in Los Angeles. He’d always been drawn to writing, and his best friend from high school, who was writing for Fox Studios, introduced him to Tinseltown.
Denison established its varsity lacrosse program in 1956 under the guidance of the celebrated Rix Yard. “Tommy” Thomsen, one of the winningest coaches in lacrosse history, assumed leadership from 1966 until 1990. And now former four-time All-American Mike Caravana coaches the Big Red lax.
In more than 40 years of play Denison has had only four losing lacrosse seasons. Denison has produced more than 100 All-Americans, and the program was the subject of a 1969 feature article in Sports Illustrated, titled “Big Sticks of the Midwest.”
This spring the DU men’s and women’s lacrosse squads both qualified for NCAA postseason play, with the men reaching the national quarterfinals.
And one more fun fact: Denison sticker Michael Anastos ’15 from Concord, Mass., appears in the film as a player from the opposing team.
“Lacrosse has been exploding in popularity recently, and it’s a sport unique to the North America,” he says. “And there is such a compelling juxtaposition between the Native American and prep school lacrosse worlds. I thought it was an interesting subject, and a great time, for this movie.”
Lacrosse’s place in Native American culture is important to Baird. In fact, when he was writing the script, he consulted with the head of Multicultural Studies at the Smithsonian Institute, as well as with the Native American community. “They helped me achieve authenticity in the story, especially with lacrosse’s Native American heritage,” Baird says.
And that authenticity rings true. The principal cast is made up primarily of Native Americans. And when the film was shot in Boston, Native Americans showed up from all over New England to participate in the crowd scenes, Baird says, “simply because they believed in it. And I hope that we’ve honored their sport and their heritage.”