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Blue Lion KC trying to break economic boundaries as it grows lacrosse in KC

One of Blue Lion KC's younger teams at Missouri State in 2015.
One of Blue Lion KC's younger teams at Missouri State in 2015. Blue Lion KC

While tuning into the 2018 Under Armour All-America Lacrosse game, Mary Orndoff, 58, saw a familiar name flash across her screen. She’d just finished watching the boys game and was getting ready to watch the girls game. That was when Orndoff saw a name that she hadn’t seen or thought of in over five years. The name was Madison Dorcette.

Dorcette had committed to Northwestern lacrosse back in 2016 as a sophomore at Unionville High School in Pennsylvania. But before her rise to a powerhouse school in lacrosse, Dorcette was originally a goalie for Orndoff’s Kansas City-based lacrosse program, Blue Lion KC.

“I turned it on, and they flashed across this team, and I'm like 'oh my gosh,’” Orndoff told The Star. “So the goalie, she was a hockey player in Kansas City, and so back in fifth and sixth grade, she lived here back then. And we taught her how to play and she was our goalie on our travel team.”

Dorcette is a testament to the work that Orndoff, co-owner of Blue Lion, has put in over the past 11 years to grow the sport of lacrosse in Kansas City — a sport that is typically dominated by players and teams from the east coast.

It’s been a flurry of an 11 years for Orndoff, but the story begins even before then. Three years prior, in 2004, Orndoff’s eldest son enrolled at Rockhurst High and promptly joined the football team. Around the same time, a coach at the school by the name of Jay Coleman was looking to build his own lacrosse powerhouse.

He would take any athlete he could find from the school, then train them up before taking them on the road to take on teams from cities such as St. Louis, which had a much richer lacrosse community.

And the amazing thing was, Coleman’s teams would win.

His dedication and skill at coaching the relatively unknown sport of lacrosse caught Orndoff’s attention. She eventually became involved with Coleman in creating what would become Blue Lion KC. Their first project was starting a girl’s team at St. Teresa's Academy.

"If you look at any other sport, and compare lacrosse, lacrosse is basically in the early infantile stage of the development of the sport," Orndoff said.

Since then, Orndoff and Coleman have worked together in not only building their organization of Blue Lion, but of simply growing lacrosse in the Kansas City area.

In the 11 years since they started working together, Blue Lion has grown to coach over 2,300 Kansas City kids, as well as employing a strong group over 15 coaches from Kansas City-area schools.

The pair still acknowledges there are problems to tackle. For example, the median household income for those playing for Blue Lion stands a little over $106,000 per year. Many of those kids come from the south Johnson County area, such as Overland Park and Leawood.

That kind of figure fits the narrative that lacrosse is a middle- to upper-class sport.

"What we're ready to launch into is to help us expand into the inner city and other areas,” Orndoff said.

And to do that, she’s looking at programs in order to allow inner-city kids to play lacrosse for a fraction of the cost that it typically costs to play.

"That's what Evolution Lacrosse, which was created by Tim Reidy at Rockhurst this last year, is. For a pretty reasonable fee, I think it was $130, they got a stick, and this is for kids like kindergarten to second grade,” Orndoff said. “And it was like if we could start to do those kind of things in inner-city schools, we can remain the expense of the equipment — we can at least expose them to the sport.”

While a small fee is involved, it’s much less than the costs of up to $2,000 that can be paid per player per year at other high-level clubs. Orndoff plans to do this through donations of gear, as well as sponsorships on jerseys and other equipment related to the club.

The other obstacle that Orndoff believes Kansas City faces is the foundation that has been set compared to other cities, such as Denver, Chicago and St. Louis. In those cities, teams have worked together to build up a culture of lacrosse — in Kansas City, there is too much financial competition between clubs.

Even after setting up coaching programs in schools such as St. James Academy, with a premise that players interested in a club lacrosse team would join Blue Lion, there was the possibility those players would then be tempted to play for a different club after Blue Lion had done all the leg-work.

That’s why Orndoff and Coleman are now recruiting some of the top high school coaches in the Kansas City area, including David Colbert from Pembroke Hill and Will Garrett from Shawnee Mission East.

"There's no way for people to differentiate what we have done as a program now,” Orndoff said. “We have pulled all the top high school coaches together as our coaching staff. We are the only program that has interconnectedness with all of those people.”

Ultimately, for Orndoff, it's not just building a culture in Kansas City, but being proud of it too.

"We're prepared to sell sponsorship and somebody can rename the damn thing. We don't care," she said. "As long as the title Kansas City is in it, or KC, because we're KC-proud. But it's mostly the integrity of what we're doing, and doing it well."