Last season, in its first year back in the Major Indoor Soccer League after a 10 year absence, the Wichita Wings averaged 4,300 seats a game. Clearly, the team was missed.
Now, after a crucial building year, the team is poised to give fans a winning season in return for their loyalty.
November 4, the team will take the field in its first home game against the Missouri Comets. This year, the Wings will meet its rival with the league’s 2011-2012 MVP, Geison Moura, and Tiguinho on its roster. Incidentally, both Moura and Tiguinho played for the Comets last season.
“Kansas City is our biggest rival,” contends John Blazek, General Manager of the Wichita Wings. “And now, it will be even bigger.”
Last year, the Wings won eight of 16 games. During the season’s postmortem, Blazek says the game plan needed for the 2012-2013 season was obvious.
“We were one of the top two defensive teams last year,” he says. “But we needed scorers.”
So, they went out and got them.
“We approached five free agents and got all five,” Blazek continues. “With the combination of the guys coming back and the five free agents, we’ve got some exceptional skill.”
In addition to Moura and Tiguinho, Blazek says he is excited about adding Miguel Ferrer, Andrew Hoxie and Brady Bryant to the team’s lineup. Other key players to watch this season include Chris Lemon, Jamar Beasley, Frederico Moojen, Victor Quiroz and goalie Sanaldo Carvalho.
Blazek credits Wings’ fans, in part, for helping recruit the talented team that will be playing this season.
“Our fan base is the best in the league,” he says, noting that 97 percent of last year’s season ticket holders renewed this season. In addition, four games last season were played in front of a sold-out crowd. “That’s one reason these players come here to play – they want to play here for the passionate fans we have.”
They also come to play for a committed management team that values the development of its players on and off the field.
Not surprisingly, team members are signed for their character and desire to be a part of team as well as their ability. Blazek says players who don’t embrace a team-first mentality won’t last with the Wings.
“We’re fierce competitors,” Blazek says of the team’s leadership. “So we’re all on the same page when it comes to the quality of our team and the way we want to represent this city.”
Blazek credits Head Coach LeBaron Hollimon’s eye for recruiting talented players and the work ethic he expects from his players. “He works these kids harder than I’ve ever watched athletes be worked,” Blazek says. “But chemistry comes through a lot of sweat and time together.”
While Hollimon focuses on developing the players on the field, Blazek has introduced a program in conjunction with Newman University and Cowley College that allows players to take online courses tuition free. Blazek, a former educator, high school football coach and school principal, says the Wings’ graduation program is unique in the league and has been a positive recruiting tool for professional players who wish to pursue their education as well.
The loyalty of the Wings’ Orange Army isn’t new: it was earned. In the 80s and 90s, legions of fans embraced the team and later led the charge to keep it going before it finally folded in 2001. In 2011, when owner Wink Hartman revived the team, veteran fans returned, along with new ones.
Long a fixture in the community, Blazek says the team pulls from its past as it steps forward – perhaps most noticeable is the music played at Hartman Arena. “We try to make all our fans happy,” he says of the balance between playing current hits and those from decades past. Another nod to the team’s roots is in announcer and radio personality Don Hall, who announced games prior to 2001. Blazek also says it isn’t uncommon to see former players in the stands.
“Our fan base is the best in the league... That’s one reason these players come here to play – they want to play here for the passionate fans we have.” − John Blazek
In keeping with its family-friendly tradition, numerous special events have been planned this season to invigorate the faithful and recruit new fans. Blazek says there will be giveaways and autograph nights throughout the season, including “Soccer Savings Blackout T-Shirt Night” in honor of Black Friday, November 23, when the first 1,000 fans through the door will get a free Wings black t-shirt.
“It’s fun,” Blazek says of the atmosphere in the arena. “Every night is like a carnival and then a soccer game breaks out.”
The word is out. Orange is in.
Home game schedule and special events
4— vs. Missouri Comets 3:05 PM
Office Plus Magnet Schedule night
9— vs. Milwaukee Wave 7:35 PM
Buffalo Wild Wings Post Game Party
18— vs. Syracuse Silver Knights 3:05 PM
Newman Night/Autograph Night — Free Mini Posters
23— vs. Baltimore Blast 7:35 PM
Soccer Savings Blackout T-Shirt Night
21— vs. Missouri Comets 7:35 PM
Autograph Night — Free Team Posters
28— vs. Syracuse Silver Knights 7:35 PM
29— vs. Chicago Soul 7:35 PM
Player trading Card night
12— vs. Missouri Comets 7:35 PM
Pepsi night/Buffalo Wild Wings Post Game Party
18— vs. Rochester Lancers 7:35 PM
25— vs. Milwaukee Wave 7:35 PM
26— vs. Chicago Soul 7:35 PM
Autograph Night — Free Mini Posters
2— vs. Rochester Lancers 7:35 PM
Buffalo Wild Wings Post Game Party
8— vs. Baltimore Blast 7:35 PM
Homewood Suites Silent Jersey Auction