Thousands of kids in the Milwaukee area play youth soccer, but the vast majority of the sport is played by kids who live outside the city itself.
But nearly 20 years ago, a local club went a long way towards expanding soccer’s footprint here to the inner city.
It was a club called the Simbas and after some years of success, the club folded in 2006. But an effort is underway to bring it back.
"In the late ‘90s, early 2000s, the club was really starting to gain a lot of recognition for not only being a wonderful recreational league, giving opportunities for underprivileged kids, but also for being a dominant soccer team," says writer James Carlton.
He chronicled the history and future of the Simbas in an article in the October Milwaukee Magazine. Carlton says the people who ran the Simbas not only set a good example for their young players, but also had ideas about how to address some of the inner city's biggest problems.
"I think a lot of people are looking for adults to be role models and structures to be in place that can help aide that effort, and i think the Simbas was that and they were demonstrably that for quite a few years," he says.
But the Simbas had its challenges in trying to get its message out. For a long time, soccer in the inner city was "the black sheep of sports," Carlton says, and Milwaukee was a "barren landscape...for soccer."
"Youth soccer in Milwaukee, it was then and it still is now dominated by white suburbanism, sort of a pay-to-play structure and it often excludes minorities, people who can't afford to play," he says.
The Simbas helped change that, giving many children the opportunity to play and grow in character. The hope now is to re-ignite the passion for soccer toward that same goal.
Carlton’s article on the Simbas soccer club, called “The Lion Awakens,” is in the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine.