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A Community Like No Other

Eau Claire soccer enthusiasts are welcoming to residents and transplants alike

Josh Ranft

In mid-January, I officially became a resident of Eau Claire. For the first time in 25 years, my whole life to date, I left Milwaukee. It was time for a change.

Life changes such as these tend to present certain challenges. For starters, I had no job lined up. (It took a month of living here to land a radical job with Volume One.) I also had no community to call my own outside of my brother and sister-in-law and a miniscule number of friends. I am not sure if I can use the plural “friends.” I am certain it was just one bonafide friend.

Cue the amazing the soccer community here in town. This journey started with an innocuous message to the Eau Claire American Outlaws (AO) Facebook page. AO is the nationwide organization that supports all United States soccer teams. A guy named Derek was on the other end of those messages. I appreciate Derek for what he did to help me assimilate into the culture around here and consider him a good mate of mine today.

Through this group of soccer fanatics, I found new friends. Plural. I started to settle into the community.

On Jan. 24, my seventh day as a resident, I participated in my first pickup session at the L.E. Phillips YMCA Sports Center. Although I had played soccer since K5 and played pickup countless times before, I was agonizingly nervous.

The walk from my car to the glass doors that separated the winter wasteland from a warm, snowless kickabout seemed to take ages. The nerves prevailed for the duration of the session for two reasons: the sheer number of names and faces I now had to learn and the thought of embarrassing myself in front of a plethora of unfamiliar people.

It was on that day that I met Larry. He is a prominent member of the community who coordinates outreach for the pickup group. The man oozes sincerity and he strives to make everyone feel like family. I, for one, am glad he is around.

At the next session, I met David. He was born and has lived in this wonderful region his entire life, and if anyone were to get me stuck into soccer here, it had to be him. And because of this new connection, I had the opportunity to join the Eau Claire Heat recreation team for an upcoming tournament (where we finished second … to Larry’s team).

I showed up to those indoor sessions whether it was -30 degrees or if there was a half foot of snow (or more) on the ground, and I kept meeting new people who shared a mutual love of the game with me. When the earth thawed and pickup moved outdoors, I showed up to those sessions, too.

My constant participation led to more opportunities with the rec team, which in turn led to two more opportunities that I feel so fortunate to have. One of those is coaching at Eau Claire United, the youth soccer organization. The other is playing with a newly formed amateur club composed of players who at one point came together for pickup.

That team, Eau Claire Heat FC, is currently involved in the inaugural season of the Wisconsin Premier Amateur Soccer League with five other clubs from Northern Wisconsin. We finished the regular season with a draw this past Sunday against Barron FC, our rivals, and the result took us to 8-1-1.

Irrespective of the result, we had already clinched the first seed in the playoffs as a result of our stellar regular season play. The opportunity to be fully engrossed in soccer in my new home started with a social media interaction and attending one pickup session. I moved here knowing only a few folks. Within mere months, I belonged to a grandiose yet nurturing and diverse community.

If you have an inkling of an interest in the sport, come out to the soccer park any day of the week. Lace up, run around, and meet new people. Above all, have some fun. Or a lot of it. I am thrilled I did.

Pickup soccer currently takes place every Sunday, Monday, and Friday at 6-8pm at the Eau Claire Soccer Park. Inquiring minds can find more information at the Eau Claire Soccer Facebook page. Those interested in playing recreational soccer through the Eau Claire Parks and Rec Department can contact Julie Booth at (715)-839-5032. People can follow the Eau Claire Heat FC amateur team on Facebook.