Few people in Chicago’s western suburbs were more invested in youth lacrosse than Tom O’Brien. He helped start the Elmhurst Lacrosse club and was the first coach in IC Catholic boys lacrosse program history.
O’Brien died June 2 at age 49. A cause of death was not disclosed in an online obituary.
O’Brien was also the owner of Orangetheory Fitness locations in Geneva, St. Charles and South Elgin.
He made quite an impact on his players, including recent IC Catholic graduate Max Cook, who plans to walk on to the John Carroll lacrosse team this fall.
“I would not be where I am without him,” Cook said. “Lacrosse is a passion for me. I’ve never looked back. My summer job is going to be coaching youth lacrosse. It’s something I always want to have with me.”
IC Catholic principal Tom Schergen recalled the humble beginnings of the lacrosse program in 2011 under O’Brien’s direction.
“He started it from a grassroots level with hand-me-down equipment, and the kids who were interested in lacrosse picked out what they wanted,” Schergen said. “Lacrosse was a club sport when I came in. My first year as athletic director, they played a varsity schedule.”
Schergen said O’Brien was not afraid to put much larger schools on the schedule. IC Catholic has one of the smallest enrollments in the state among schools with varsity lacrosse teams. The Knights played teams such as Glenbard West and the Lincoln-Way co-op.
First-year IC Catholic athletic director Michael Fahey said he only worked with O’Brien for a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic halted the spring sports season, but Fahey said he knew O’Brien well because of his involvement in the IC Catholic community.
“Anybody who respects the game of lacrosse, just to see what Tom built at IC, you had to kind of be in awe,” Fahey said. “He built the program because he wanted his kids to be involved in the game. I immediately respected him as a businessman and coach, and a family man.”
O’Brien and his wife Lisa had four children: Brendan, Charlie and Jack O’Brien graduated from IC Catholic, and Maggie O’Brien recently completed her sophomore year.
Fahey said dozens of people lined the streets of Elmhurst for the funeral procession, and more than 400 people watched the online video stream of the funeral service.
York boys lacrosse coach Don Canfield has fond memories of O’Brien’s commitment to the sport, especially locally.
“Tom was an incredible guy,” Canfield said. “When I came to Elmhurst specifically for lacrosse 12 years ago, Tom was one of the first people I met. He cared about growing the sport and nurturing kids. He was a real guy of character.”
Mike Siegenthaler co-founded Elmhurst Lacrosse in 2010 with O’Brien, Neil Vandenberg, Vince Gatti and Kevin Rogers. Siegenthaler said O’Brien’s pedigree as a lacrosse player on Long Island and at Notre Dame helped give Elmhurst Lacrosse immediate credibility.
The program even brought crosstown rivals York and IC Catholic together.
“Really, in the end, it became one community,” Siegenthaler said. “These kids have known each other since kindergarten. It was all love for the game and respect. As a lacrosse community in Elmhurst, it was such a positive thing.”
Gregg Voss is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.