The Collingwood United Soccer Club (CUSC) has kicked off its 2022 season.
After cancelling the 2020 season and with last year ruled by a number of protocols and procedures put in place by Ontario Soccer, Michael Cullip, president of the CUSC, said there was a lot of excitement from both adults and children heading into this summer.
“I think it’s important within our community to give not only kids but everybody that opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine,” said Cullip.
Formerly known as the Collingwood Youth Optimist Club, the CUSC has been around for well over three decades and prides itself on providing programming for participants at all levels of the athletic spectrum, regardless of age and ability.
The club offers a number of leagues and divisions, with participants in its house league programs ranging in age from three to 73 years old.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, the club has seen a steady decline in participation, but there has been a significant resurgence this year, with more than 1,200 participants signed up for the 2022 season. According to Cullip, the CUSC hasn’t seen numbers like this since 2015.
He said the decline was likely due to more sports and clubs opening in the area, coupled with an increase in youth’s use of technology, and attributes the recent spike in numbers to the influx of people coming to the area as well as a desire for movement and connection following the pandemic.
The typical season starts after Victoria Day weekend and runs for 14 weeks, with the younger house league teams running for shortened eight weeks.
For athletes looking to further their ability, the club also offers competitive soccer teams, which require a higher skill capacity and level of competition. Athletes play in the Huronia District Soccer League and compete against various teams around the region.
Morey Doner, a Nottawa native and club alumnus, is one such athlete who now plays professionally in California. Doner started kicking around a ball in his backyard when he was just three years old and took to the sport immediately.
“It was something that I always gravitated towards as a young kid,” said Doner.
Doner played with the CUSC for several years, starting in the house league where he quickly excelled and was moved to play competitively with a team two years up. When he was about 14 years old he really started to realize his potential and decided to move to the city to attend an academy. He officially started his professional career four years ago and now plays for Monterey Bay Football Club in California.
“There are only a handful of people who play professionally from Collingwood, so it’s something I am really proud of,” he said. “Collingwood is a small area. Growing up there wasn’t much of a soccer culture, so I really had to fight my way.”
But he is thankful for his summers spent playing with the CUSC for giving him the drive to do so.
“Maybe a kid in a small town could get frustrated playing on a small team, but you need to go through these frustrations,” he said. “For me, it was always about being able to wake up and do what I love, so I never gave up.”
Cullip said with numbers dwindling in the last few years the club has become less competitive, but it has always strived to offer an opportunity for “anybody and everybody of all age groups and skill levels, with very little investment, to come out with a pair of shoes and shin pads and kick a ball around for an hour a week.”
“It’s rooted in fun and community,” he said. “Get outside, get some exercise and have some fun.”
And he said that’s the reason he still plays.
Earlier this year, the CUSC announced a new partnership with the Collingwood Youth Centre (CYC) in support of Project Butterfly, a new initiative that aims to address food insecurity in Collingwood. The CUSC has placed the Project Butterfly logo on its jerseys this season in support of the cause.
“We wanted to make use of the fact that we have everybody out and have their attention, it’s very easy to participate in something like this,” said Cullip.
In addition to raising awareness, the CUSC held a food drive when club members picked up their jerseys at the start of the season, and all of the food was donated to the community fridge.
Last week, the CUSC also announced it joined a growing list of Ontario youth soccer organizations in support of Soccer 4 Ukraine, a non-profit support group that provides free soccer camps and club registrations for children aged 8 to 14 years who’ve recently come to Canada from war-torn Ukraine.
The club held a nearly week-long Soccer 4 Ukraine boot and equipment drive from June 20 through June 23.
“[There are] little things we can do through our community,” said Cullip.