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Nurturing Soccer in Rural Ohio: Exploring Club Ohio United

Attracting talent is something clubs in rural areas are always battling but in these small towns where communities might be smaller, they are also much tighter. In the heart of rural Ohio, a group of soccer enthusiasts saw an opportunity to provide young players with a chance to excel in the sport they love. From the success of the Marietta Flames, 2011 gave way to Club Ohio United becoming a founding location of Club Ohio Soccer, a youth soccer franchise Ohioans know well. Club Ohio United’s Director of Operations Ben Schenkel shared with us some of the challenges and successes of their growing club.

*Club Ohio United is a Premier OSMD insider and paid sponsor of Ohio Soccer Moms and Dads.

Origins and Collaboration:

The inception of Club Ohio United traces back to the Marietta Flames, a small-rural soccer club led by Shane Hartshorn and Bill Mannix. In 2011, they recognized the need to expand soccer opportunities in the region and joined forces to establish Club Ohio United. This partnership marked a significant milestone, uniting local talent with a broader network of players and resources.

Attracting and Retaining Players:

In a region where soccer may not be as prevalent, attracting and retaining talented players becomes a strategic effort. Club Ohio United's coaches take a proactive approach, scouting recreational games to identify potential talent. Schenkel shared that “(the) success of our teams, over the last 12 years, our reputation and our model for success, draws local talent to our club.” The club's track record, combined with a reputation for player development, serves as a magnet for young players in the area who are eager to hone their skills.

Challenges of a Rural Setting:

Navigating the challenges of providing resources and facilities in rural areas is a constant endeavor for clubs in rural areas but not for Club Ohio United. While Marietta may lack some amenities, a strong alliance with the Marietta Soccer League ensures access to well-maintained fields. “We have a great relationship with the Marietta Soccer League, who owns and maintains 16 acres of soccer fields in Marietta. The Marietta soccer league board does an amazing job providing these facilities to our club teams at an affordable rate.” Schenkel explained, “They graciously allow us to use these facilities for training sessions, friendlies, and also hosting a weekend of soccer through the Shawnee soccer league that many of our club teams participate in.”

Winter training remains a hurdle due to limited indoor options, but creative collaborations with local fitness centers and sports complexes help bridge the gap. Schenkel shared that, “We do have movement fitness in Marietta, which does house one indoor soccer field. This is utilized by our club players through winter training sessions with Telma Poole, who is one of our Club Coaches. We also have a smaller indoor field across the river in Parkersburg, West Virginia at the elite sports complex where many of our club players receive training from club coach Colten Holdren.”

Unique Advantages for Young Athletes:

Club Ohio United's small-town setting brings its own advantages for young athletes. Close-knit teams foster lasting relationships that extend beyond the soccer field. Schenkel explained that “With a limited number of players available for each roster, many of our teams have a core group of players that start together at the low levels and play clear through their high school experience until they age out of the Club Ohio United organization.” Something you rarely see in the uber competitive suburbs throughout Ohio where players transfer from club to club. Chemistry is organically developed at Club Ohio United where experiences together are key to team and player development. With fewer players on rosters, teammates often play together for years, nurturing friendships and healthy rivalries. The rivalry among players from different high schools adds a layer of excitement to their experiences. “When our club players’ high schools play each other, it is rewarding as their club coach to see all of them gathering after games, shaking hands and giving hugs and having their Club Ohio teammate pictures taken together in their different high school uniforms.”

When talking with Schenkel you can feel how proud he is of his players and this community, “As our first groups of Club Ohio players are now in their college years and early adult years, we see these relationships extending well beyond their soccer lives and well into their post athlete adult lives.”

Impact of Club Ohio Soccer Partnership:

The partnership with Club Ohio Soccer has been instrumental in Club Ohio United's growth. Coaching sessions led by coaches from the Dublin organization have elevated the skills of both players and mentors. Guest playing opportunities have exposed players to higher levels of competition and expanded their horizons beyond local play. He explained that “several of our players got high caliber guest playing opportunities. Some of these opportunities allowed our players to experience state cup championships, clear to national finals appearances.”

Managing Travel Challenges:

Competing from a rural area necessitates significant travel for matches and tournaments. While local play is limited, the club has embraced the need for travel, participating in leagues like the one at the Shawnee soccer complex in Charleston, West Virginia. “Basically, local play is nonexistent for us,” explains Schenkle. “With all (of) the opportunities for play in the bigger cities, teams are unwilling to come to Marietta to play. This does put a little burden on our families as we have to travel several hours for all competitions. “This commitment reflects the determination of players, families, and the club as a whole.

Club Ohio United exemplifies the potential of collaboration and community spirit. Born from the Marietta Flames' vision, the club has evolved into a platform for local talent to thrive. Through practical solutions, strong partnerships, and a dedication to the sport, Club Ohio United is proving that soccer can flourish even in rural settings.

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