Local soccer clubs form Wisconsin United FC
By Rich Palzewic
HOWARD – The Wisconsin United FC (WIUFC) soccer team is new in the area.
Earlier this year, the United Hurricanes, De Pere Select and NEW United (Appleton) merged to form the team.
Each region has been operating locally like normal, but by working together in Northeastern Wisconsin, the new club provides greater programming and offers a means to higher-level teams.
“Each of the three clubs has traditionally had success, but as a whole area, we haven’t seen that same success,” said Eric Gebhard, director of coaching. “It’s the same on the national level. While our area is growing, we are running out of teams to play. Also, our kids are getting better, so when they go onto certain levels, we have a hard time competing with the bigger communities. It gives players more options to play.”
By combining forces with the De Pere and Appleton areas, Gebhard said the new team should see more success in bigger tournaments.
“Our program, the United Hurricanes in Howard, has traditionally been for all levels,” said Scott Frisch, president of the Hurricanes and Wisconsin United teams. “We have different leagues for recreational players two times per week, an academy program for those who want to practice more and our select programs allow for more competitive soccer and travel.”
Frisch said more than 1,100 kids are involved in the Hurricanes program.
“About 75 percent of the kids come from Howard, but we also have players from Pulaski and Hobart,” he said.
Drew Jepson, director of grassroots (12 and under), said the kids entering the program are excited to learn.
“It’s more about getting them involved, teaching them the game and for enjoyment,” he said. “We work on technique, positions and team play. It’s about 90 percent technique work when they’re younger, then we move into the tactical side.”
Frisch said while Wisconsin United provides many benefits, the individual focus and dedication to the local players won’t change.
“Every player matters,” he said. “We want all kids to get the attention they deserve, but this combination allows our coaches and staff to connect even more closely with the players.”
Gebhard said U.S. Soccer “shot themselves in the foot three or four years ago,” and it’s caused declining enrollment.
“They changed the birth date from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1 for which age bracket you qualify in,” he said. “Our age groups are split down the middle, and we typically have this burnout age when eighth-graders become freshmen. Lots of kids quit at this time because they’re looking over the fence and don’t have a team for the next year. With the new Wisconsin United team, where we draw from three different areas, it gets rid of that fear of not having a team for the next year. If we have to draw players from different areas for six months to form a team, we can do that. By coming together, we’ve overcome that natural burnout age – it gives us flexibility.”
Gebhard and Frisch said the clubs have been talking about forming a unified team for decades, but the planning for this specific process got serious more than a year ago.
“All three of the programs were doing well before the merger,” Frisch said. “Now we have more sponsorship to hire more coaches, send them for more education, get new equipment and maybe install some turf fields, too. We can pay it forward to our members.”
Gebhard said the goal was to get through the first year with the three clubs joining together, but after that, other clubs might join in.
Frisch said the strong area youth program showed dividends when the players got to the high school level.
“(Former Bay Port High School players) Emma Nagel, Alaina Abel, McKenzie Johnson and the Kane girls (Katy and Hailey) all played in our program since they were little,” he said. “They also did lots of coaching and were phenomenal at it. The kids would come to the girls’ high school games and yell from the stands, ‘That’s my coach.’ We were lucky to have them.”
The above-mentioned girls were all members of Bay Port’s 2018 WIAA Division 1 state championship squad.