Play. Inspire. Unite.
Following an unprecedented shutdown of sport worldwide, Ontario Soccer is continuing to return to the pitch.
The Play ON! Spotlight Series is a Return to Play campaign designed for the membership to help drive awareness and registration as Clubs, Academies, Districts Associations and Leagues Return to Play this summer and fall.
This campaign will help build communities, increase health and wellness, excite our members, and reinvigorate participation.
We are calling upon the Ontario Soccer membership to inspire and unite the soccer community as Ontario Returns to Play.
There will be challenges and it may be different than we remember, but the most important thing is that we move the game forward together. Unified in our return, we will all Pitch in, Play ON! with the game we love.
One such story of hope and new beginnings is the tale of the newly merged Nipissing District Soccer Club (NDSC) that services the soccer community in North Bay, Ontario and surrounding areas.
Born out of the conviction of local soccer leaders like President Mark Hopper, VP Rob Celebre and Siggi Sieppman, there was a vision for a better Soccer 4 Life pathway for all soccer players in the region.
With soccer in past having been represented by The Nipissing District Adult Soccer Club, as well as the Armstrong Park Soccer Club and the North Bay Selects Soccer Club on the youth side, alongside a robust soccer program at neighboring Nipissing University, there was a sentiment that somehow the whole could become even greater than the sum of its parts.
Exploratory dialogue among all stakeholder groups in 2019 was quite constructive and, ultimately, fruitful, as the Adult Club and the two Youth Clubs officially embraced the merger into becoming the new Nipissing District Soccer Club in early February 2020.
As VP Rob Celebre pointed out, “the vision to provide a more complete and holistic development opportunity for our players of all ages was what got this merger across the finish line.”
Streamlining the local youth programs to give everyone a place to play and develop, while fostering a lifelong love for the game that would see players eventually graduate into the Club’s Adult Women’s and Men’s teams was the one pillar of this vision.
Preparing and advancing local and regional top talents into Nipissing University’s varsity program, as well as other collegiate institutions across Ontario and beyond became the other focal point. Under its new NDSC banner, the Club committed to continue the community partnership with Nipissing University, even associating the “Lakers” name with all its competitive NDSC teams.
Although the excitement for the future of soccer in the North Bay area was palpable among NDSC leadership and the community-at-large, nobody could have foreseen that within just over a month of the merger the newly minted group would have to face the biggest challenge in North Bay’s soccer history: a province-wide Covid lockdown.
“Covid made things very crazy for us in June and July, first in the district being able to embrace Return To Play Phases 1 and 2 for our grassroots competitive and then our Adult programs for women and men,” admitted VP Celebre.
Undeterred by this challenge, the newly amalgamated Club’s Board Members continued to engage the community and recruit players, coaches and volunteers for all its competitive and development roles within the Club.
It is here that the benefits of its new community eco-system became quickly apparent.
The budding partnership with Nipissing University has been very beneficial, with a number of varsity players stepping up as coaches and role models for the girls and boys from as young as U8 and in particular for the NDSC’s competitive players.
Similarly, energized by the fact that the Club now served players of all ages, adult players, who were often parents of NDSC grassroots players saw their chance to pitch in.
“Having united the girls’, boys’, women’s and men’s programs in our community all under the NDSC banner, has brought an extra quality of cooperation and collaboration to bear,” explained VP Celebre.
“In remarkably harmonious fashion, female and male adult players alike can now give back to the community as coaches and volunteers, knowing that they provide their children with a vastly improved, one-club pathway.”
It certainly was not easy, but thanks to this newfound spirit of teamwork, the NDSC successfully concluded its 2020 outdoor season and is now looking ahead to even greater things to come.
One future goal the NDSC team has already set their sights on is improving the soccer infrastructure for the community. Currently, there is no indoor soccer field or complex in place, which would be so vital for continuation of programming beyond the fall season. Covid has sidelined local college and town facility plans in the short-term, but these are likely to be revitalized, once the pandemic has been overcome.
In the end, Covid was the perfect case study for NDSC to prove that the solution lies in teamwork and collaboration.
As President Mark Hopper put it, “Thanks to our many volunteers and the communities that support this sport, soccer has been a wonderful experience for many. We expect that there will be further synergies realized as a result of this merger, thus fostering the development of soccer in our community."
If you would like to recognize an Ontario Soccer member organization that is proactive and innovative in engaging, servicing and caring for its stakeholders during this challenging time, please contact Bjorn Osieck, Director, Business Operations.
If suitable, we would be happy to share any suggestions and case studies with our membership, so we can all support and learn from each other as we all work together to Pitch In. Play ON!