West Bank Athletic Club (WBAC) is a youth development organization founded in 2008 by Ahmed Ismail, known as “Coach Ahmed” or simply “Coach.” WBAC serves Somali youth and young adults ages 5-24 from the Cedar Riverside (or West Bank) neighborhood and across the Twin Cities with year-round programming that supports leadership development, teamwork, discipline, responsibility, and respect for others, primarily through soccer. WBAC is comprised of five soccer teams and hosts an average of nine annual tournaments, serving a total of over 1,500 young players annually.
Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in North America with the highest concentration in the Cedar Riverside (or West Bank) neighborhood. Culture, language, and religious difference, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and sensational media coverage have caused tension between Somalis and the larger population. Resource limitations and segregation have resulted in lack of culturally relevant arts, sports, and community engagement opportunities for Somali community members. WBAC addresses these challenges by creating space for Somalis and non-Somalis to connect, offering programming that highlights positive aspects of Somali culture, and providing sports and arts activities that further community and relationship-building.
WBAC supports the development of 21stcentury skills using soccer as the framework. Through practicing and playing soccer, helping to administer tournaments, and participating in service-learning projects, WBAC youth learn skills in collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. We also provide a platform for young Somalis to find community and build relationships with other soccer teams throughout the Metro Area and through community events. In response to requests from families of WBAC youth, we are exploring a partnership with a local social services agency to launch an after-school mentoring program. For many of our youth, WBAC is where they find passion and community; We are leveraging this to more directly improve the school performance of our players with mentorship and homework help.
During his time as Executive Director of WBAC, Coach has managed nearly 100 tournaments. He recently hosted WBAC’s second tournament outside of the metro area (in St. Cloud) due to interest and demand from outstate partners, demonstrating our reach and impact. He has built trust and recognition among youth and families in the community and is supported by a five-member Board of Directors that includes Nick Rogers, former President of the MN United Football Club and Greg Holker, Augsburg University Men’s Soccer Coach and Athletic Facilities Assistant Manager.
As our communities increasingly struggle with challenges of equity, segregation, and misunderstanding, WBAC programming provides an opportunity for people to join together, celebrate, share our cultures, better understand each other, and support youth in positive development.