After losing 17 seniors from its boys soccer team, Elyria High knew it needed a strong coach to help the program keep its head above water. The Pioneers decided to go with a soccer celebrity to get the job done, announcing the hiring of John Ball as coach Wednesday.
“The kids that have met him are really excited,” Pioneers athletic director Heather Beck said. “They’ve said to me, ‘We’ve seen him play and he’s an intense player.’
“You can tell he absolutely loves the game. We picked him because of his passion.”
Ball played for Division II’s Southern Connecticut State University until 1996, then was selected in the second round of the National Professional Soccer League draft by the Cleveland Crunch. Ball scored 168 goals in 280 games for the Crunch, helping the team win NPSL championships in 1996 and ’99.
“I still have a bunch of people come up to me and say, ‘Dude, I was at that ’99 game … it was awesome,’” said Ball, who played for the Crunch until 2005. “It’s always fun for me to reminisce with people. There are so many diehard fans in Cleveland — for the Browns, Indians and the Cavs. We had our fair share, too.”
After a 14-year professional playing career, Ball began to run soccer clinics and training sessions in Rochester, N.Y., for three years. But he promised his wife, Carrie, who hails from Berea, that he would move the family back to the Cleveland area after his playing career was over.
So Ball and his wife packed up their children — Madison, Jalen and Jaci — and moved to Lakewood, where Ball continued to run summer camps and work on his coaching career.
He served as the girls assistant coach at Orange High in Pepper Pike the last two seasons, and he also coached the Cleveland Select and Ohio Premier teams.
Ball said he wanted to make the switch from coaching girls to coaching boys, and was informed of the Elyria opening from friend Chris Dore, a former Lorain Catholic and Cleveland Force standout who coached the Pioneers for two seasons (2005-07).
“He steered me toward it,” Ball said. “He spoke highly of (the school), and said there were a lot of good kids and a lot of good parents out here. He said I’d get a lot of backing from the community.”
Beck said she received about 15 applications for the position and they interviewed four finalists. Ball’s credentials on the field and his energy as a coach were more than enough to win the job.
“He’s going to be very good for our program,” she said.
Ball, the NPSL All-Star Game MVP in 2001, will be on the field with his players at Abbe Road’s Pioneer Field on Monday for the first of 10 contact days. Official practice begins on Aug. 6.
“I have the ability to take my experience from the game and put it into technical sessions to improve youths,” Ball said in the hiring release. “I am highly committed to each team I coach and strive to make winning programs.”
That’s just what the Pioneers are hoping.