Why is Obama holding a hurley stick?

HAIL TO THE CHIEF: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, reacts after he was presented with a hurley stick from Irish Prime Minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny while in Farmleigh, Dublin Monday May 23, 2011. Obama said Monday that the U.S. and Ireland share a "blood link" that extends beyond strategic interests or foreign policy into the hearts of the millions of Irish Americans who still see a homeland here.(AP Photo, Pool)

I have to admit, I’m writing this post with the exclusive hope that someone is going to ask Google or Yahoo! about the strange stick U.S. President Barack Obama was holding in his hand during his stop in Ireland today.

He’s holding a hurley, the stick used in the Irish national sport of hurling, and it is truly a great game. I want every American to know about it. I want every American to want to play it.

Americans who know of the sport say hurling is what would happen if you mixed lacrosse, baseball and rugby.  The truth is, the game is older than every one of those sports, and some even suspect that lacrosse is a bastardized version of the game.

This very blog, Hurley to Rise, is dedicated to raise the prominence of the sport in the U.S. If you found this blog in a web search, I guess it’s starting to work.

One of the best introductory tools I have ever seen to the sport is this video. Watch it and be amazed:

I will admit that most Americans have never heard of the sport, but it shouldn’t be that way. There actually are lots of hurling players here in the U.S. Just look at the “U.S. Clubs” list I have here, or check with the owner of your local Irish bar.

To learn more about the sport, keep checking out this very blog. I’ve been working the last two years to develop my skills in the game. It’s a hard game to learn, but at the same time it’s glorious.

You won’t believe me, but I can say with all my heart that it beats football. It beats basketball. It beats hockey and any other sport you can name. All you have to do is give it a try and see for yourself.

In fact, with crippling gasoline prices, that’s just what I would like to do for my town. I’m located in the South Central region of Pennsylvania, and I would happily travel to York, Hanover, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Carlisle or Lancaster to begin assembling a local chapter of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the governing body of hurling and its sister sport gaelic football. Right now, I’m a member of the Baltimore GAA, but I’d jump at a chance to start a new division of the GAA here in Pennsylvania.

Just let me know if you’re interested, and I will welcome you a whole new world because a world with hurling is indeed a better place.

And who knows, you might just join an O’Bama on the pitch soon.

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Hurling should be fun first

Here in America, when hurling enthusiasts get together, we talk about how great the sport is and how we can make it grow. We want to show everyone we meet how great the game is. We want them on the field and having some fun.

CLASH OF THE ASH: Hurling is a field sport a lot like lacrosse and was developed in Ireland. If you're interested in playing the game, do a web search of the word hurley or camogie and your nearest big city or university. (Art by John Simcoe)

But over in Ireland, the country where hurling was born, there’s a different sort of talk. The Sports Desk Blog of the Irish Examiner does a good job in summing it up the constant drumbeat of angst:

The fact is hurling is elitist. There should be no shame in that. It’s an art-form, something that can only be performed by a minority because it takes years upon years of mastering. That’s why it’s such a treasure.

It’s a fanciful thought to believe every boy and girl in the country is going to puck a ball. It should be that way but hurling can’t and will never be that game simply because it’s so difficult to play. Not enough people have the patience to pass on or absorb the skills.

Such talk continues on to complain that hurling is a sport that will be continually dominated by just a few regions because no one else can even consider catching up — Kilkenny and Tipperary counties are just too good to even bother stepping on the pitch when they’re your opponent.

That dominance, they say, is what’s killing the sport. People aren’t interested in watching the game, and they certainly aren’t interested in learning the almost-cryptic skills needed to play. These issues are draining the life right out of the game, they say.

Hogwash, I say.

Here in America, we are just playing hurling for the fun of it. Someday, we might have clubs to rival the greats. But until then, we just play because it’s an incredible way to spend an afternoon.

We may not have even a sliver of the skills of the Kilkenny Cats or Tip’s Blue and Gold squad, but as long as we’re having a good time, we’re gonna keep having a go at it.

I would suggest the Irish naysayers do the same. Just get out there. Get better at the game and keep the sport alive.

You don’t need to win a championship to play a sport.

You just need to be willing to walk out on the field.

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