by Josh Decker
Starting a soccer club is not a simple task. Starting a soccer club as recent college graduates with limited resources, experience, and time is even harder, but that is exactly what a group of friends in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is doing.
The name of the club is the West Michigan Bearings and it is branded as an elite amateur/semi-professional team. The club will begin play soon and is set to compete in the Midwest Premier League (MWPL) starting this summer.
The ambitious project first stemmed from a canceled season with another semi-pro team. Friends Ryan Woodside, Conner Hughes, Isaac Braak, Derek Braak, Levi Haight, Jordan Hooker and Gaston Aubert were focused on training last spring for the season, but due to COVID-19 and financial difficulties, the club they were playing for withdrew from game competition for the year.
The trio of Derek Braak, Hughes, and Haight all graduated from Cedarville and played on the men’s soccer team, with Braak and Hughes graduating in 2019, and Haight in 2020.
After the soccer season was officially canceled, the group of friends started to question what it would be like to start a club of their own.
“I wondered how difficult it would be,” said Hughes. “So we began to look into it and analyze what it would cost.”
The idea was complicated by the fact that all the guys have full-time jobs, which meant they did not have the luxury to train every day like a college player or professional would have the opportunity to do. It has also meant that much of the work for this project has been done in the evenings after the group gets off work.
Ultimately, the goal for the club is to provide the players a chance to be competitive following their college playing days, while also creating a meaningful impact in the community.
The group has plenty of collegiate soccer experience among them, with Cedarville, Hope College and Calvin College all being represented.
One point of emphasis for the club is creating relationships in the community.
The Bearings have already been creating partnerships in Grand Rapids, starting with the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids. The organization works to enable young children through education, recreation, and positive experiences in the community.
The decision to partner with the organization was driven by a common mission and vision to take a relational approach of encouraging young people in the community to be successful. While the club is obviously seeking success on the field, it is also looking to help others in Grand Rapids chase success.
The Bearings have also developed relationships with corporate partners throughout the process of starting the club.
Apex Controls, a company based in West Michigan, has established a partnership with the club. Another business, Carter Manufacturing, which is owned by Isaac and Derek Braak’s family, came on as the official jersey partner for the club, though the connection goes deeper than that.
The name of the club is derived from the company’s products – bearings. These are engineering machine elements that facilitate motion by bearing a load, reducing friction and positioning parts.
This is part of the club’s values – serving the community, bringing people together through the game of soccer, and giving individuals the opportunity to do good in the community.
There was also another, slightly humorous reason, for the naming of the team.
“We thought if we named the team Bearings, [Carter Manufacturing] would definitely sponsor us,” Hughes jokingly recalled.
After deciding to name the club the Bearings, Woodside and Isaac got to work and designed the crest for the club.
“There was not a bunch of hidden meaning or divine inspiration with it, but we were just trying to make a bearing and incorporate that into the crest,” said Hughes.
In order to field a team by this upcoming summer, the group of friends also had to find a league to join, assemble a roster, and secure a venue.
Woodside had connections and was able to get in touch with the commissioner of the Midwest Premier League (MWPL), a new regional soccer league run by its member teams that is focused on sustainability and promoting high-level competition.
The Bearings have now officially joined the MWPL, and are set to play home games at South Christian High School in Grand Rapids.
The current plan for assembling a full roster is to take the current core of 10 guys, and then hold tryouts on March 28th to fill out the rest of the lineup.
The tryouts will help attract local talent and provide a platform for those local players to see high-paced, competitive action.
Training and scrimmages are scheduled for the month of April, with the club hoping to play its first game at the end of the month.
The journey of starting a semi-professional club has not been easy, but it has definitely been worth it despite not playing a game yet.
“Obviously we all love soccer and eagerly await the start of the season to play the sport we love,” said Hughes. “But it has been fun to see and learn the side of sports that takes place long before the actual games take place. It’s humbling to have come this far.”
Josh Decker is a junior Sport Business Management major, and a sports reporter for Cedars. He loves playing sports with friends, and spends much of his free time as a student assistant for the Cedarville men’s basketball team.