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South Georgia Tormenta FC and the Business of Community

By ETHAN TRIEBSCH -, 06/14/24, 5:15PM EDT


Co-Owner & President Darin Van Tassell discusses the launch of the club's Unified Series team, its role in the community

Co-Owner & President Darin Van Tassell discusses the launch of the club's Unified Series team | Image Credit: South Georgia Tormenta FC

On the road in front of a national television audience on ESPN2 this weekend, South Georgia Tormenta FC will look to join Greenville, Omaha and Richmond as the only four clubs to have claimed 50 regular season USL League One victories.

Nearly a decade after the club was announced back in 2015, the Statesboro, Georgia-based club has enjoyed several milestones across its nearly decade-long existence to reach this point: the club was the first team announced to be joining League One in January 2018, it hosted and won the first-ever USL League One match against rival Greenville Triumph SC in March 2019, it enjoyed a historic double in 2022 as its men's League One and women's USL W League teams won their respective leagues, all while continuing construction on Tormenta Stadium - the club's soccer-specific stadium that will hold 5,300 seats while also having the ability to expand to a capacity of up to 14,000 upon completion.

Operating teams at the USL League One, USL W League and USL Academy levels, the club welcomed a new team into the fold last weekend - a Unified Series team. The Unified Series team provides an opportunity for people with cognitive or physical disabilities to play soccer with traditionally able-bodied individuals on a single team.

"In order to really make an impact at the local level, you must earn the trust of the community," said Tormenta FC Co-Owner & President Darin Van Tassell. "Having our men in USL League One, our women in the USL W League, our boys and girls in USL Academy and now our Unified Series team, which provided unmitigated, unfiltered joy on Sunday, is incredible. I can't get enough of the character of our organization and community.

"Here's the other thing I have to point out. The whole League One coaching staff could not have been more involved on the sidelines with the players. Head Coach Ian Cameron - after a tough loss to a rival - was grabbing the water bottles and making sure every player was properly hydrated. Every one of our players on the men's team who just went through a devastating loss were out there on the sidelines and we're going nuts, and our entire women's team was there."

Not a novel concept in American soccer - and specifically at the USL League One and USL Championship levels - several clubs across the country have worked in partnership with their respective Special Olympics organizations to start a Unified Series team. Notably, fellow League One sides Forward Madison FC and Union Omaha have worked with Special Olympics Wisconsin and Special Olympics Nebraska, respectively, to launch their own Unified Series teams.

"Madison and Omaha absolutely deserve every ounce of credit for introducing this to our league and for getting it rolling," Van Tassell said. "My wife and I were really inspired by them. It took us a couple of years to do it, and what a moment. Our only regret is that we didn't get this started sooner.

"We also got a title sponsor for our Unified Series team, EmployAbility, which is a group in Savannah that does all the transportation for our athletes. I can't tell you how important that was so that we could get all these folks together. They've helped our athletes get around to games and trainings and have assisted in their professional work and daily lives."

The addition of a Unified Series team is yet another example of the goal that Van Tassell and the entire Tormenta FC organization are pursuing: determining how best to actively and authentically integrate itself into its community. It's a concept that dates back over a decade to when Darin Van Tassell and his wife, Netra, were mulling over the idea of bringing professional soccer to Statesboro.

"I think about these ideas of how sport grows communities globally. My wife and I put a blueprint together to determine how to grow it ourselves, right here in Statesboro, Georgia, and that was a great way to begin," Van Tassell said. "Here's what was clear from my time traveling the globe with baseball: it wasn't just that soccer was the biggest sport in the world, which it clearly was, but that soccer was the biggest anything in the world. I don't know what else comes closer. I don't know that there's something else that has the following that soccer does.

"So, to become a professional sports city, soccer was hands down the sport of choice, and the organization that we gravitated towards so quickly was the USL for a couple of reasons. I liked the structure of the USL, and I thought it was the league that was best positioned to grow the game in the United States; I came to that conclusion from a vantage point of how I thought sport was best organized internationally. As we've grown the league, a lot of that growth is due to why and how we're able to grow things at the community level."

One of five founding members of League One still kicking in the league, Tormenta FC has played a vital role in the growth and development of the league. In a period of rapid growth for League One and soccer in the United States, Tormenta FC again will play a role on the national stage as the Ibises fly to Madison to take on the 'Mingos on national television.

"What a showcase the league gets on Saturday on ESPN2, and what an honor that we get to go play at Madison," Van Tassell said. "The Madison crowd will not disappoint; they're raucous up there, and we love playing there.

"I have to add, not only are we undefeated when playing on national television, but unlike a lot of teams, we've had great success when playing on the road at Madison. Conor Caloia and his ownership group up there are just top-class. I love it when Madison's successful except when they're playing us; we expect to go in and smash Madison on Saturday."

Nearing a decade of existence, as South Georgia Tormenta FC welcomes the Unified Series team to the club, continues to work toward the completion of Tormenta Stadium and surrounding developments, and marches toward a new era of USL League One, one thing remains constant: the club's commitment to its community.

"The first step is continuing the construction of Tormenta Stadium and surrounding area," Van Tassell said. "From there, we've got to get even more people into our stadium - both physically and virtually. The physical stadium is Tormenta Stadium, but the virtual stadium is the environment on social media, digital platforms, earned media, and beyond. How do we compete with people's time, space and attention? We have to stay relevant, we have to create meaningful experiences."

"The business of sport is not really about sport. It's the business of memories and experiences, and once you get your arms wrapped around that idea, it's a different kind of mission. Sport is a global language, and I think it gives us the ability to do really amazing and unique things for and with our community."

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