Chicago Girls' League Growing the Game with LADM


In 10 years, the IGLA has expanded to 22 locations in the Chicago area. (Pictured: Hannah Greving)

Coming out of Hinsdale (Ill.), Michelle Sebastian had never played lacrosse until freshman year of college, when she joined the then-club team at Vanderbilt and eventually became one of the program’s first Division I varsity players.

Years later, while coaching at her high school alma mater, she decided it was time to start putting sticks in the hands of young girls much earlier than had been the norm in the non-traditional lacrosse region of Chicagoland.

And thus began the Illinois Girls Lacrosse Association, which Sebastian co-founded in 2006 with community teams for middle school-age girls in Hinsdale and Northbrook. In its 10 years, the IGLA has expanded to 22 locations around Chicago, providing development opportunities for girls as young as age 5.

“I wanted girls to have the opportunity to play before they got to high school, which was only happening in maybe one or two town in all of Illinois,” Sebastian said. “We wanted to give girls, no matter where they grew up, the opportunity to learn lacrosse at a young age.”

Sebastian expects about 2,000 participants for the spring, and excitement seems to have risen since implementing the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model — a US Lacrosse initiative that reimagines how we introduce new players to the sport in an age-appropriate — in the fall. The league is based on the motto “every girl plays.” The IGLA awards scholarships for 5-10 girls who can’t afford to play.

Many former IGLA players now return as officials and coaches. Parents pair up with high school players as coaches. All are volunteers.

“We hear so many of the high school girls say how much better they are as players because of their experience coaching, and the girls who play look up to them,” said Lynn Merrill, managing director and president of the IGLA.

Meanwhile, lacrosse has gained ground in Illinois. The state high school athletic association will sanction the sport in 2018. And even with the mergence of club and travel teams, the IGLA has expanded to 50 park districts in Chicagoland with two levels of play and fees range from about $170-$285, comparable to other sports offered through the park districts.

“Rec is definitely not dead,” Sebastian said. “The girls that want to travel at this point are definitely able to do both, so they can have both elements of, ‘This is something I'm really working toward’ and, ‘This is me having fun in my community with my friends.’ It’s about building their community, making the high schools better and making stronger friendships.”

The Lacrosse Athlete Development Model provides every athlete the opportunity to enter, enjoy and excel by learning and playing lacrosse in a way that’s best for each stage of growth and development. Learn more.

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