Breaking Down the Walls - the story behind Titanium Lacrosse
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
When I started Titanium Lacrosse in the fall of 2009, I had no idea what it would evolve into. Originally, I didn't intend for it to become an actual business - I just wanted to help players develop during the off-season and assist families through the recruiting process (if their son desired to play in college).
Back then, there were a few top programs that played for the championship each year and had players go on to compete at the collegiate level. These high school programs had good coaches, solid booster organizations, support from their administrators and other advantages over everyone else. There were the "haves" and the "have nots" when it came to high school boys lacrosse. I'd estimate that there were about 8 to 10 "haves" programs in the state of Ohio. I was fortunate to be the head coach of one of them.
If a player didn't live in one of the "haves" communities, chances were slim that he would ever play for a championship, much less be recruited. I would have bet that, at the time, the majority of coaches in the "have nots" programs couldn't name five college coaches, much less have relationships with them, so college recruiting assistance was out of the question.
Before starting Titanium Lacrosse, I had to make a fundamental decision.
1. Focus solely on our Dublin Jerome program - hoard the best coaches that I could hire and have them exclusively train the players in our program. And assist only our Jerome players and families with college recruiting.
2. Open the door to all players to receive coaching from the best coaches that we could find. Help all players and their families with recruiting.
While this wasn't a hard decision, it wasn't necessarily an easy one either. If I went with option 2, that would mean that I would likely train our competition. This could (and DID) come back to bite our high school program in the future. After all, there were plenty of very successful programs throughout the Midwest (and country) that built walls around their programs.
I chose option 2.
Titanium started in 2009 with a series of fall clinics that were open to everyone. We had an outstanding staff of coaches from throughout Central Ohio, a few former Ohio State players and some of our best Jerome alumni players.
The clinics were offered to middle school and high school players. We quickly noticed that players from outside of Columbus - some as far as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland - were driving 2+ hours each way to attend our 90 minute clinics.
Now-a-days lacrosse clinics are a dime a dozen, but back in 2009, they weren't. Players had the option of going to summer camp and/or, for the best high school players, playing on a select team that had a few practices and two summer tournaments.
The players who attended our clinics told us that they wanted more.
I had built other businesses, so I knew the ingredients of a market opportunity. The off-season lacrosse opportunity was staring me in the face. That's when I got serious about making Titanium Lacrosse into a real business.
What started as a few clinics, grew to a comprehensive offering of private & small group instruction, camps, clinics, leagues, select teams, events, recruiting counseling and more. The company grew to have offices in Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH; Detroit, MI; Indianapolis, IN; Louisville, KY; and Kansas City, MO.
Here's a promo video on Titanium:
Titanium was very fortunate to have an outstanding Director of Player Development, Kevin Boland, and a team of excellent coaches, including Scott Loy, Dave Ames, Chris Polanski, Zach Peterson, Rob Schmeling, Brett Dillon, Mike Lippert, Kevin Benages, Sean McGinnis, Andy Gruber, Tom Coons, Marcus Saba, Scott Kolb, Bill OIin, Colin Hartnett, Danny Gray, Bill Conway, Nick Campana, Brian McGinnis, Gary Harkin, Kevin Burns, Nate Reed, Greg Rose, Greg McGee, Doug Brooks and many, many more. Titanium also had a great Operations Manager, Ruth Rudibaugh. I was also incredibly lucky to have a fantastic mentor, Angelo Calvello, to help guide me.
All of the Titanium coaches made the same decision that I did - to train players regardless of which programs/cities they came from. They often found themselves coaching players from rival schools. To all of them, growing the game and helping kids outweighed everything else.
As the years passed, I found myself more interested in the business-side of Titanium than the coaching side. This was the luxury of having such great coaches in our company to handle the on-field work.
We built out two other key areas of the business - sponsorship and apparel. To my knowledge, we were the first club lacrosse organization to land a major sponsorship with a Fortune 100 company. We also landed regional sponsorships deals with medical centers, including The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
My wife, Maggie, built our apparel line, Titanium Threads, which developed into a key business unit. This was a 1-2 punch for our business because it was highly profitable AND was outstanding for marketing. Additionally, Maggie was able to make this a key profit center for the business.
By 2015, Titanium Lacrosse had helped more players earn D1 college scholarships than any other club lacrosse program in the Midwest. We also helped over 100 players move on to play D2 and D3 college lacrosse. More Titanium players than I can count earned US Lacrosse All American, US Lacrosse Academic All American, Under Armour All American and All State/Region honors while playing for their high school programs. This was a collaborative effort between each player's family, their teachers, youth/ms/hs coaches, mentors and Titanium. It takes a village.
Many players were able to use their lacrosse skills to gain admission to colleges that they otherwise would not have been admitted. In some instances, Titanium players gained admission to IVY and NESCAC schools because of their lacrosse skills. These were life-changing events.
This is a crucial point for families to consider. There is a misnomer that families think that their son will earn a big scholarship. Lacrosse scholarships are normally very small in dollar terms. HOWEVER, that is the wrong measurement (in my opinion).
The accurate measurement of your ROI (of time and money) should be determined by personal development, confidence, discipline, athletic development, friendships, experiences, and how the experience can help later in life. I run a cybersecurity company now and relationships developed through lacrosse constantly help open doors for me.
Many of the players from past Titanium teams still keep in touch today. Titanium alumni are now doctors, teachers, attorneys, business people and other respectable professions. Some are coaching lacrosse at the highest level. One, Bo Lori, even won last year's NCAA National Championship as a coach at Virginia! Bo played for, then coached for, Titanium!
STATE AND NATIONAL IMPACT
In terms of the impact on the landscape of lacrosse in Ohio, I think that Titanium, as well as other similar organizations, including Resolute, Blackjack, Haymakers, Burning River and a few others have helped grow the sport tremendously.
I would go so far as to say that club lacrosse has been the biggest driving factor behind the growth of lacrosse in Ohio since 2009. There has been an explosion of:
- opportunities for kids to play, train and compete
- accessibility to high level coaching
- connectivity to college programs for recruiting
- coaches' education
Clubs across the country have had a similar impact nationally. Club lacrosse made it so it didn't matter what city you lived in or who your youth, middle school or high school coach was. Opportunities were abound for those that wanted high level training and competition.
I sold Titanium in late 2015 because I was ready to tackle bigger challenges. Titanium was the 3rd or 4th largest club lacrosse business in the country and there wasn't much more to accomplish. I was ready for the next big challenge.
Titanium had a few competitors, with our biggest Ohio-based competitor being Resolute Lacrosse. In many ways, our businesses made each other stronger. In doing so, it created outstanding training and recruiting assistance for the players and their families.
I recently sat down for a 3 hour breakfast with the co-founder of Resolute, Greg Bice. We discussed many topics and reflected on the sheer quantity of really good lacrosse players in Ohio. Today, players from all over Ohio can receive training from some of the best lacrosse coaches in the world and be instantly connected to any college coach through a network of club coaches. It didn't used to be that way.
Lacrosse is like a fraternity. Everyone doesn't always get along, but any real lacrosse person knows that we are all bound together by a common thread. I am very grateful for everything that the sport as taught me - as a player, coach, business owner and (now) parent of lacrosse players.
From an entrepreneur standpoint, there were a few key lessons that I learned from building Titanium:
- There will always be people who are upset with you if you disrupt the status quo. There were many people/coaches that would have preferred for Titanium and other lacrosse clubs to not exist. Most people are resistant to change and they like things how they are - especially if the status quo benefits them. Change is the only constant. Either be a part of it, or risk getting run over by it.
- Find off-shoot offerings that provide value to your customers while diversifying your revenue streams, thus de-risking your business. Our ability to expand geographically, provide additional services, overlap sponsorships and offer an apparel line was critical to Titanium's success.
- When Titanium got rolling, some people thought it was "wrong to make money off of training kids." Of course, they had no problem making money in their jobs as attorneys, doctors, business people, teachers, etc. There is nothing wrong with providing a quality product or service and letting the market decide its monetary value. In many ways, it's no one else's business. As an additional note, Titanium, nor any other club I have ever spoken with (Resolute, True, BlackJack, Haymakers, etc.) has EVER turned a player away because his family didn't have the money. Titanium covered tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships over the years.
- People are very passionate about their kids. One minute they may be your friend; the next they can become your enemy. Don't get too close to parents until their last kid is out of your program! This is a bit more of coaching advice than business advice.
- Surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak. I was very lucky in my coaching career to have Dave Ames with me at both Jerome and Titanium. Kevin Boland, Scott Loy, Chris Polanski, Zach Peterson, Kevin Benages, Tom Coons, Sean McGinnis, Rob Schmeling, Kevin Burns, Ruth Rudibaugh and Maggie were huge helps with Titanium.
Additional commentary since publishing the blog: Thank you to all of the fellow coaches, parents and players that have reached out since I posted the blog.
It has been very gratifying to hear that many of our players still keep in touch and consider playing Titanium with their buddies as some of their best memories from high school. It's also great to see what our alumni continues to accomplish long after their playing days.
Thank you to the coaches that have reached out and expressed how fun it was to be a part of Titanium. I did my best to name everyone - if didn't include your name, it's because I am chasing 4 kids around 24/7 and am building another business. I appreciate you! I will try to update the blog with names and links as I carve out additional time.