Maryland's Official Sport Is Something Totally Unexpected

State legislatures love claiming things as their official state whatever. Birds, songs, foods — basically anything and everything can be co-opted by a state if the state legislature has enough time on its hands to debate the merits of making tupelo honey the official state honey (looking at you, Florida), instead of discussing other, arguably more pressing issues. Admittedly, it can be kind of fun, and a way to show off some state pride.

Seeing as sports fall under the category of "anything and everything," U.S. states have been staking their claim to them for decades. Most of these make sense. For example, Minnesota — a state known colloquially as the State of Hockey — counts ice hockey as its official state sport, while North Carolina — where most NASCAR teams are based — chose to honor stock car racing. The most recent state to choose a state sport is Washington, which chose pickleball as its state sport in 2022, per The Seattle Times.

This trend was started by the state of Maryland back in 1962, according to Culture Trip, and it can be said with a great deal of confidence that even with a hundred guesses, there is absolutely no chance most people ever be able to guess what that state's official sport is. It's not football, it's not baseball, and it's not even horse racing, although horses are involved. Maryland's state sport is jousting.

Jousting was a big deal centuries ago

According to World History, jousting dates back to the 13th century. It was practiced through the medieval period. Jousting was part of a standard medieval tournament, a series of events where knights put their combat skills on display, not just to entertain crowds, but also with hopes of impressing aristocratic women.

Jousting involves two knights on horseback charging directly at each other while armed with a long wooden weapon known as a lance. Lances measured as much as 12 feet long and were eventually adapted to include a round section that was meant to protect the knight's hand. According to Live Science, as the years went on, lances became blunt as opposed to sharp, but that didn't make the sport completely safe.

In the 1400s, a divider called a tilt was introduced to separate the two horsemen who were reaching a combined speed of as much as 50-60 miles per hour. The tilt kept knights from knee-on-knee injuries as well as dangerous horse-on-horse collisions that used to happen when the event took place in an open field.

How jousting became Maryland's state sport

So how did a sport that most people don't realize exists outside of Medieval Times dinner theaters and Renaissance fairs become the official state sport of Maryland? According to the Maryland State Archives, jousts took a dip in prevalence after their heydey in medieval times (not at Medieval Times), but there was a resurgence in popularity in colonial Maryland that continued and reached its apex after the Civil War.

The modern version of jousting that is held in Maryland is called ring tournaments. Instead of featuring two competitors dashing full speed at each other, one competitor dashes full speed toward a series of rings and uses their lance to grab the rings. Riders wear colorful costumes that hearken back to the pageantry of medieval jousts and the sport is intended to let riders display their horsemanship abilities.

The state is home to several jousting clubs which have helped the sport maintain its popularity. Henry J. Fowler, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, is responsible for introducing the bill to anoint jousting as Maryland's state sport (via Culture Trip). Once the bill cleared the state legislature, it was slid across the desk of then-governor J. Millard Tawes, who promptly signed it and made jousting the state's official sport.

Maryland also has an official team sport

Maryland, a state known for crab cakes, being rich in history, and — as we now know — jousting, is also a hotbed for another sport: lacrosse. According to the Maryland State Archives, lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America, and its roots can be traced back to sports played by Native American tribes. In the early 20th century, college lacrosse programs started popping up in Maryland. The team from Johns Hopkins University — a school that has become known as a college lacrosse powerhouse — competed in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics as the United States representative. The state is also home to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, which is located in Sparks, Maryland.

Lacrosse saw a significant surge in mainstream popularity in the mid-1990s, but there was a problem if Maryland wanted to capitalize on that popularity by officially embracing the sport. Of course, jousting was already on the books as the state's sport and had been for decades. So lawmakers added one simple word to indicate a distinction between the two sports. Jousting remained the state sport, while lacrosse became Maryland's state team sport, an honor the sport received in 2004.