Come November, Off the Wall Soccer begins its 25th year in Santa Clara, where, in 1993, an old tomato packing building owned by Gangi Brothers Packing Company was transformed into an indoor arena for playing soccer.
Creating the sports center was a dream come true for Jon Eric Nordmo, president of Off the Wall Soccer (OTWS). Nordmo, who has played soccer for longer than he can remember, was introduced to the sport by his Norwegian father.
During WWII, his dad, who was nine, lost one of his eyes to a landmine. But that didn’t stop him from learning how to play soccer from the German soldiers who occupied the family farm. Later, as an immigrant to America, Nordmo’s dad brought his love of soccer with him to Washington state, where Nordmo was born.
The family eventually moved to Santa Clara, where Nordmo grew up, graduating from Wilcox High School. While attending the University of Washington, he played indoor soccer. Then at Ohio State, he earned a Master’s Degree in Recreational Sports Science.
Although Nordmo became an engineer in the Bay Area, the idea of transforming a building for indoor soccer was always in the back of his mind. When the opportunity to buy the Gangi Brothers’ building arose, he grabbed it.
To date, perhaps 15 million soccer players—men, women and kids of all skill levels—have played more than 100 thousand games of indoor soccer at OTWS. It was the first truly successful sports complex of its kind in the Bay Area.
Its tech-savvy soccer players pushed it to bring technology to the center. Players register and can sign up online for field times and pay online while on one of the three fields. There is a strong surveillance system for safety. Lacrosse, flag football and diving practice have been added to the program mix.
“Off the Wall Soccer has stood the test of time,” said Nordmo, who is socially active, working against sports bullying and donating soccer balls as far away as Mexico, the Philippines and Nigeria. “We have been fiscally responsible and good stewards of the game of soccer. We have fantastic, loyal customers. We have generations of customers.”
“They play for recreation, fun and social opportunities,” continued Nordmo, calling them “life style players.”
Facility manager Jose Sorto, originally from El Salvador, has worked at OTWS since 1997.
“People from all over, speaking different languages, come here to play every night—from Israel, Russia, Spain, France, England, Ireland,” said Sorto. “So many people come to have fun. They work all day and come here to relax. They stay and talk after the game. There are lots of people every night. Lots of company teams.”
Alexander Cooke, site director for World Cup Soccer Camps and Clinics, sang the praises of indoor soccer, which is faster-paced on a more compact field than outdoor soccer. Because the ball is bounced off the wall, different rules are used. Players are protected from the weather and can play late into the night. The indoor turf is safer to play on than the uneven streets.
“I like this indoor facility and the turf and how there’s no sun,” said Cooke’s 11-year-old son, Brian. “They have a prize palace to win toys. It’s really fun learning to play and meet new people on a team.”
Looking beyond 25 years, Nordmo hopes to expand OTWS. Thus far, however, his plans have been thwarted as the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley close in around him, buying up the land at higher prices than an individual businessman can afford.
“Off the Wall Soccer came into being as an opportunity to build a sport that I love in the community I grew up in,” said Nordmo. “Our mission has been to be the place where soccer people would come and enjoy the game and each other.”
OTWS (www.offthewallsoccer.com), 700 Mathew St., is near Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.