Kansas University’s men’s club lacrosse team played Missouri Valley College outside of Broken Arrow Elementary on Tuesday night.
Just a football field away were 12 youngsters, ranging from middle school to high school, practicing the fundamentals of lacrosse. They were working on passing the ball to their partner’s outside shoulder, picking up ground balls and cradling.
It’s just the beginning of Chuck and Molly Ozonoff’s vision to bring lacrosse to Lawrence. Chuck Ozonoff, who has been a lacrosse referee for 25 years, started the Lawrence-area lacrosse club six weeks ago.
“We wanted to bring the opportunity to the kids here in Lawrence,” said Chuck Ozonoff, who met his wife through the sport. Molly Ozonoff handles the administrative tasks while Chuck coaches. “Lacrosse is pretty big everywhere in the country — everywhere but here. That’s pretty much of the truth of it.”
Ozonoff, a battalion chief for the Olathe Fire Department, wants to have high-school-aged club teams of both boys and girls, made of players from all over the Lawrence area, compete at the junior-varsity level against Kansas City-area teams next spring. He also hopes to start a youth program that would feed into the high school program.
The lacrosse club started with a three-day clinic in March, using loaner equipment for the prospective players. Now there’s a core of about 10 high schoolers and 15 middle schoolers who show up to the twice-a-week practices.
“Bishop Seabury Academy was instrumental in starting this program because we couldn’t get any school team in town to put up our flyers or do anything,” Chuck Ozonoff said. “(Athletic director) Eric (Nelson) said, ‘You can have a clinic at my school, put it on the school’s website.’ They basically gave us some legitimacy to what we’re trying to do.”
In its annual participation report in October, the NCAA said lacrosse is the fastest-growing collegiate sport, and the trend trickles down to high schoolers and middle schoolers. It’s more popular on the East Coast, but Kansas youths are starting to pick up on it.
“I was really interested because I’ve always watched lacrosse on TV, and it always looked so cool,” said Aleena Plotnikov, a sophomore at Seabury Academy and one of about five girls who play regularly. “I thought it would be really interesting to play and learn.”
Andrew Suddith, who helps coach and whose son Kelvin is one of the core members of the club, added: “It’s the fastest game on two feet. It’s a field sport. It’s as fast as hockey. It’s as exciting on hockey.”
The first practices were the toughest, as only two of the regular players had actually participated in the sport beforehand.
“It can be a little frustrating at times when you get the drill but nobody can actually do it,” said Kelvin Suddith, a sophomore at Free State High who also is on the wrestling team. “But at the same time, we’re all like, ‘Well, I know how to do it, I just can’t do it.’ So there’s that camaraderie of everybody just going, ‘We’re all new at it, we’re all pretty decent at it, we’re all learning the sport together.’”
All of the kids interact during practice, regardless of age, and the high schoolers try to help teach the finer points of the sport to the middle schoolers.
“Not only does it help little kids, but it helps us, too, because you have to think on how to explain it,” Plotnikov said.
The Lawrence All-City Lacrosse Club practices from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at Broken Arrow Park. The club is open to all boys and girls from fifth grade to seniors in high school. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org