To start anything successful in life, it takes a vision.
Iron Body Fitness certified trainer and 11th-12th grade English teacher Noah Fannin never deviated from his vision, not once, from the moment that he was hired five years ago. In fact, the 2002 Portsmouth graduate made it a point that he wanted to bring back the soccer program that had once existed when Fannin, himself, was in high school.
That long-term vision ultimately paid off as Fannin, with the help of at least 34 individuals who have shown early interest to becoming a part of the Portsmouth boys soccer program, will take to the pitch against varsity competition as the program will return to action for the first time since 2004 thanks to the 35-year old’s efforts to restart the sport that had once existed.
“When I went in for one of my first interviews (for the teaching position that Fannin currently holds now), that was one of the things that I brought up,” Fannin said. “I said, ‘I want to bring back soccer.’ They (the administration) were pretty excited for that. It’s been years in the making. We haven’t had a lot of success in the sport in the past, but now, we have enough people on board to really make a go of it.”
In all facets, the stars look like they have aligned for Portsmouth to not only field a team, but one that can become a competitive force at that in the future.
Since the last time Portsmouth had a soccer program, the game of soccer has arguably taken on a meteoric rise across not only Southern Ohio and the state, but the entire country.
The sport, which is currently the fastest-growing across the country, had just 10 franchises in the Major League Soccer (MLS) realm when the Trojans finished their final campaign. Today, that number sits at 23, and by 2020, will be up to at least 25 as Miami, Fla. and Nashville, Tenn. will each have MLS franchises of their own. They will become the sixth and seventh units to join the country’s premier soccer league in just the last five years alone.
The growth, however, has been just as meteoric, if not even moreso, at the high school level.
According to a study done by the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in soccer, from a boys standpoint, grew more than any other sport in 2017, with 9,912 additional individuals taking part across the boys soccer realm in 2017 than in 2016. And compared to additional girls sports, soccer was fourth on that same list with 6,810 new competitors.
Across the Tri-State Area, that positive change hasn’t been any more evident in any other area than in Southern Ohio.
Within the last five years, Northwest, Waverly, and Wheelersburg have all added girls soccer programs at the SOC II level, while Rock Hill, located in neighboring Lawrence County, has added boys soccer, as well, within the last five years. The latter pair of programs each won conference championships by their second year of existence, with the Lady Pirates obtaining regional berths in just their third and fourth years fielding the sport at the girls level.
Additional programs, such as the West boys and girls soccer programs, along with the Northwest boys soccer program, have seen a sharp increase in participation during that same stretch, while the traditional success that the Minford, South Webster, and Wheelersburg soccer programs have enjoyed have provided for a very competitive atmosphere across Scioto County as far as the sport of soccer is concerned.
Fannin believes much of that success has to do with the atmosphere that the Columbus Crew — one of the nine original MLS franchises in the sport — has created as a part of their resulting success, with eight seasons of .500 or better records over the last decade spearheading an interest in soccer that has blown through the roof since the beginning of the current decade.
“Soccer’s become so much more than what it used to be,” Fannin said. “When I was in high school, it was more of a casual sport back then for a lot of people. I really believe that with the Columbus Crew really taking off, more kids have become interested, and they’re enjoying it. Kids ask me at least once every day, ‘When are we getting a team? When are we getting a team?’ It’s like, ‘I’m trying, guys.’ It’s just very exciting to have that level of interest in the sport.”
In Portsmouth’s case, fielding this program is taking on a look that could really help those who may not be participating in an after-school activity otherwise. Of the 34 players that met with Fannin during the opening meeting for the program, over 80 percent of those student-athletes do not play a fall sport.
“There’s not a whole lot of crossover,” Fannin said. “I might have two football players interested, and a couple of volleyball players interested, but the vast majority are all kids that do not play a sport. These are kids that may not be the most athletic in the world, but they’re ready to get out there. I don’t know what they’ve been doing in the past (as far as the sport is concerned), but they’ve been waiting for something like this to come along. They’re excited.”
What’s just as exciting is the facility that Portsmouth will be playing at.
As part of a reciprocal agreement between the Trojans’ athletic department and the Shawnee State University athletic department, Portsmouth — who allows the men’s and women’s track units at Shawnee State to practice and train at the Hatcher Athletic Complex — will get to use the Shawnee Turf as its home base for its high school and junior high competitions this coming fall. Because of that agreement, Portsmouth could possibly play host to night games in 2018, since the Shawnee Turf has lights that were just installed last year.
“Jeff Hamilton (Shawnee State athletic director) has been very helpful about working around our schedule while we try to work around theirs at the same time,” Fannin said. “To tell these kids, ‘Hey, we’re going to be playing on a university field,’ is pretty awesome. They were pretty excited about that. They have lights now, so that’s an added feature that we can use as well.”
But with any new program, there are hurdles. While small in the overall life-and-death nature of the program, the vast majority of Portsmouth’s soccer athletes will set foot on the pitch for the first time this fall without knowing much of the basic rules or fundamentals of soccer, a fact that will certainly require patience as the Trojans look to build a competitive program against the likes of Rock Hill, who is the defending OVC Champion.
That challenge, however, is one that Fannin embraces, especially considering that the 35-year old rolls out of bed at an exceptionally early 4 a.m. to conduct training before heading off to mold the young men and women that he teaches into productive students and citizens.
“Our biggest hurdle is that most of these kids don’t even know the basic rules of soccer at this point,” Fannin said. “We’re going to have a meeting coming up this month, and then we’re going to have a little open field to see what the kids know, see what they can do, and test their knowledge a little bit. Personally, I’m going to likely go with more of a defensive strategy as we go through the transition phase of learning the rules and the fundamentals of soccer. My main hope is to take the knowledge that I have learned there, and with our soccer kids, help them develop into physically fit athletes as well.”
One thing’s for sure, however: the challenge of building the sport of soccer in the City of Portsmouth is something that Fannin is extremely thrilled to do — because the former player-turned-coach will have a chance to mold his student-athletes in the way that he sees fit and develop a love with a sport that didn’t exist under the Portsmouth umbrella for more than a decade.
“I’m excited because I get to develop the game of soccer to these kids,” Fannin said. “A lot of these kids don’t know the game of soccer right now, and I get to develop that however I want, which, as a coach, is very exciting because the student-athletes are going to come in, listen to what is being offered, and respect that.”