Jake Deane and Mike Gabel didn’t have a master plan when they started what became True Lacrosse. The duo was playing for the Chicago Machine of Major League Lacrosse when they began working with local youth players to help generate interest in the sport, but their efforts quickly expanded and led to the formation of True Lacrosse.
True Lacrosse has since grown into one of the largest programs in the country — currently serving approximately 15,000 boys’ and girls’ players through club programs spread across 24 states.
“When we started our company, we started going to areas not being serviced by everyone else,” Gabel said. “We went to states where we knew there were a lot of athletes, but not a lot of people teaching the game.”
That has since evolved as the program has found a desire for their approach in more traditional areas.
Gabel also serves as president of the Illinois Boys Lacrosse Association (IBLA), a non-profit organization that is home to 5,000 youth players on nearly 200 teams in over 50 town programs. In that role, he helps to facilitate rules and regulations, assists with scheduling and running the league’s end of season championship.
For the 2022 season, the IBLA became a full-member league of USA Lacrosse.
Gabel has already seen the benefits. USA Lacrosse included a Level 1 coaches clinic as part of the IBLA Coaches Convention in late February. Coaches also have access to Mobile Coach, town programs have seen benefits from the insurance program, USA Lacrosse Magazine helps young players become more engaged in the sport and grant programs help those in need.
“The support [USA Lacrosse] offers for programs in need through the grant program is very beneficial,” Gabel said. “There are some towns we have that need the extra financial support.”
The relationship with the IBLA is the first step of a broader engagement with USA Lacrosse for Gabel.
“Mike is a great advocate for the game and a great leader,” said Matt Burke, the Midwest regional manager for USA Lacrosse. “We’re excited to have them be a part of our member program and continue to find ways to work together.”
In one such effort, True Lacrosse and USA Lacrosse are currently working on plans for a summer camp with Chicago Public Schools this July, further expanding the reach of the game.
Another way the organizations will work together will be bringing the True Lacrosse club teams into the USA Lacrosse membership program.
Gabel has seen the direct benefits available for USA Lacrosse member programs, but is also aligning for a bigger purpose.
“I don’t want to just grow the game in Illinois, I want to grow it around the country,” Gabel said. “Part of me was saying, ‘Let’s show some support for the good of the game.’”
Many of the things True Lacrosse has done on a local level over the years mirrors what USA Lacrosse has done on a national level.
“I think one thing we do that aligns very well with USA Lacrosse is offering a lot of free clinics and training in the spring,” Gabel said. “Yes, it helps spread awareness of our brand, but it’s also a chance to help kids and parents to enjoy the game.”
And that, ultimately, is the goal for everyone.