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North Bay soccer club shuts down after 50 years

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It’s the end of an era for a well-known North Bay soccer club.

The North Bay Youth Soccer Club is shutting down, citing board member fatigue and a dwindling number of kids taking part as two big reasons.

Founded in the early 1970s, in its heyday the youth soccer club had more than 1,000 players. However, it took a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic and then shifted focus to run programs only for kids ages 3 to U8.

“There's that challenge of keeping young people playing in a particular sport,” said club head coach Paul Cook.

“The numbers the last few years have been pretty low because of the fact we limited it to 3 to U8."

Les Wilkinson, vice-president of Sport North Bay, was one of the volunteers who started the club in 1972.

“Four years ago there was an attempt to join the four soccer clubs in North Bay into one club,” Wilkinson said in an email.

The North Bay Youth Soccer Club is shutting down, citing board member fatigue and a dwindling number of kids taking part as two big reasons. (File)

“North Bay Youth chose not to join but the other three clubs did join and formed the Nipissing District Soccer Club and this arrangement has worked well.”

Throughout the club’s history, several players went on to play at the professional, university and college levels. Others continued to sponsor, coach or officiate.

Nipissing Lakers Women’s Soccer head coach David Bitonti recalls playing in the league when he was four years old. It introduced him to coaching and refereeing soccer.

"When you love the sport, you get out to play. It opened a few doors, not just in terms of skills development as a player, but getting into coaching at 17 years old,” Bitonti said.

“It opened that pathway for me now 30-something years later. It was sad to hear knowing the fond memories I had.”

Bitonti said Lakers’ women’s players in the past would get involved with the soccer club’s yearly youth jamboree.

“There was that excitement around soccer that youth soccer has created in North Bay for many years,” Bitonti said.

“We’re sad to see that go but we’re hoping we can continue to create that link between the community and Lakers soccer.”

The North Bay Youth Soccer Club is shutting down, citing board member fatigue and a dwindling number of kids taking part as two big reasons. (Photo from video)

Fred Juett, at the Ottawa Internationals Soccer Club, said he has great memories playing in the various leagues growing up in North Bay.

“I was blessed to have had so many great coaches and played with and against many great players,” Juett said.

“Siggi Siepmann was a mentor and coach that helped in my development immensely and I carried that forward into my professional career … The organization enabled kids to have a fun place to play in a safe and well-organized environment.”

Not all hope is lost for young soccer players in the area. The Nipissing District Soccer Club still runs soccer programs and registration is open now.

“Although we're stepping aside, we know that young people can still play soccer in the community and we wish them well as they continue to run leagues for soccer,” Cook said.

Some advantages

“The joining of the two youth sections in North Bay will allow the much easier movement of players between the two levels of play, especially when competitive teams are short of players because of injury or vacation,” Wilkinson added.

“In the long run, I believe the joining will be advantageous to the continued development of the game in Nipissing District.”

Over the years, the youth soccer club raised money to support several organizations and facilities. Cook recalls a $60,000 donation made to the turf field at Nipissing University and a $500,000 contribution made to the Steve Omischl Sports Complex.

The club also supported the West Ferris Trojan Alumni Complex and worked with city officials each season to develop and maintain the soccer fields.

“We do have some money that we will be dispersing in the community,” Cook said.

“We're waiting for our year-end audit to determine how much and where that money will go."

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As the original soccer club prepares to say goodbye, it's hoping it has left a legacy that will keep the ball rolling and The Beautiful Game alive in the area.

“Without the foundation of the youth club, I don’t know where the other club would have launched itself,” Bitonti said. 

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