Club Feature: The City of Ohio SC

by Joe Meyer

The City of Ohio Sports Club embodies the mission of using “sports as a vehicle for change”, connecting the residents of Cleveland’s West Side with opportunities to play. While the club’s senior men’s & women’s sides participate in the Northern Ohio Soccer League, the club’s efforts extend far beyond the senior teams, sponsoring free-to-play programs for underserved youth and adult groups in Cleveland.

We sat down with City of Ohio SC founder Noah Toumert to learn more about the club, it’s purpose-driven mission, and how he and his team provide opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to the local community.


What inspired you to launch this club? What’s the club’s overall mission?

I was inspired to launch The City of Ohio because after moving back to my hometown of Cleveland I realized how abysmal soccer access in the city was. Not only was there no opportunity for competitive adult play besides a few 5v5 indoor leagues, but for kids living in the City of Cleveland there was zero organized play outside of the City’s rec leagues (which themselves are hard to access). It was unacceptable in my mind that a city the size of Cleveland, and with a rich youth soccer history, had no travel, premier or academy teams in the actual city. It was emblematic of the pay-to-play issues the sport has in this country. So we started a free-to-play, community club that’s based in the city as a solution.


We started in partnership with a local nonprofit, The Refugee Response, which has a program called Corner65 that works to provide extracurricular programming to newcomers in the city. Those newcomers are starved for organized soccer play, and we hope to provide a bridge to the larger soccer infrastructure in the area for that population. Our mission is to provide access to the world’s game here in Cleveland, and we started with a men’s team and in year three have expanded to women’s and youth teams.


Tell us a little bit about the soccer scene in Cleveland and how the club fills an important void in the local community?

Like we said before, there’s a rich soccer scene in Cleveland. We have the best high school programs in the state, and local youth clubs regularly send teams to Regionals and Nationals. However, there’s very little large scale organization for soccer access. Before we started, there were no free-to-play clubs for kids or adults, and especially none that operated in Cleveland proper. Since this sport is often pay-to-play, it’s not surprising that the clubs are generally located in the suburban belt around the city with no access for kids born in the city.


How does the club use soccer as a vehicle for change in an underserved community?

Like we said before, the youth clubs in The Land are generally located in the suburban belt around the city. Well the city is where most of our immigrant and refugee communities end up moving to, at least at first. With no connection to Cleveland’s soccer infrastructure, our international communities aren’t able to fully engage with the sport here in the US. It’s our goal to provide access to all Clevelanders, and we’re starting with a focus on the kids in our refugee communities here on the near west side of Cleveland.


Last week (by the time this runs) you announced that you’re launching a women’s side, why was it important for you to invest in the women’s game?

The women’s team is something we have talked about since we formed. When we talk about access to the game of soccer, that’s access for everyone regardless of age, gender or country of origin. As long as you live in Cleveland and want to kick a ball, you should be able to. I played competitively all my life, and when I moved back to Cleveland I was stunned there were very few options for me to continue to play in my community. That issue is even more prominent for women who grew up loving the sport. So when the NOSL mentioned this intent a few years ago we’ve always pushed for this development.


What are some of the programs that the club puts on outside of the NOSL side? Is there a particular focus on either the first team or youth programs?

We started youth programming last year, and are planning to operate two youth teams year-round this year for the first time. We don’t have a particular focus on either the adult or youth programming because for me they’re two sides of the same coin. The adult team allows us to expand and become more visible, and grow a larger donor base, while the youth team helps us create access for all Clevelanders and create a ladder to ensure our adult teams will continue to have high quality players in the future.


Money at the grassroots level can be hard to come by. As a 501(c)3 playing in a local amateur league, how do you fund the club? What are some ways you’d like to expand on this in the future?

Our funding is done through donations from individuals and local businesses. It was important for us that the club was free-to-play for underserved populations, so our goal was to fund operations (league fees, player registration, transit, kits, etc) through donations. We have some incredible local partners who have made this possible the last few years. We just want to continue to grow the donor base and the community of support. As a nonprofit, our programming can only grow in-line with our fundraising, so any increase means we can offer more teams at a higher quality of service. There are more kids who want to play in this city than we could ever facilitate, so any funding growth changes the game for at least one person.


Shoutout to our big supporters: Market Garden, The Refugee Response, Ohio City Pasta, Mason’s Creamery and the Cleveland Soccer Group.


Where do you envision the club in five years, both on-and-off the pitch?

The goal for this club in five years is sustainability. If in five years we’re running the same amount of teams successfully I’d be happy. Ideally we can expand to offer a girls youth program and a few more youth teams for both genders in the next five years. That would require a few more donors, so that’s where we’ll have to start!


What does success for the club look like in 2023?

In 2023, success means three things: Successful expansion of our youth and women’s teams, turning our adult games into a summer community event for Ohio City, and winning the championship.


To stay in touch with and learn more about The City of Ohio SC, visit their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages, or check out the club's website.