A $22M star bond renovation to Stryker Soccer Complex is nearly complete, and FC Wichita is set to return home in 2019.
It’s been just over 6 years since FC Wichita was created during the summer of 2013, but the club has quickly checked off a decade worth of goals in that short time span.
On April 30, 2014, FC Wichita officially became a member of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and began its path towards the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Although the club had lofty dreams of making a deep run in the Cup, at that time team officials made it clear the primary job was that of a “caretaker” for Wichita soccer.
FC Wichita was set to kick off it’s inaugural season in the NPSL. Over 90 teams from around the country would represent their cities through the game of soccer, making the NPSL the largest sports league in the Unites States. These owners had already came to the same conclusion that the great Lamar Hunt had arrived at decades prior. They all believed that Hunt’s vision of soccer one day becoming one of the most attended sport in the states was true. The story goes that Hunt was inspired to promote soccer in the United States after attending the World Cup in 1966 in England. He founded the North American Soccer League in 1967. He was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to the Unites States in 1994. And he was a founding investor of the MLS.
During the summer of 2015 the opportunity for this group of small time owners to bring the “beautiful game” to their beloved city had arrived, along with the dream of one day building a soccer stadium that could help them grow into a professional product. The vision was easier said than done for a city like Wichita who had never established a footprint in outdoor soccer and was far from on the national radar.
FC Wichita CEO Blake Shumaker, along with newly hired head coach Larry Inlow, began searching for a home field small enough for quick growth, yet big enough to dream. After months of meeting with local high schools and area colleges two options stood out above the others.
Option one was Cessna Stadium, a football and track stadium which had been underutilized since Wichita State University stopped fielding a football team in 1986. The potential to have a 24,000 seat stadium with all amenities already in place was exciting for the club. But, the width of the field wasn’t ideal for world soccer standards, and although it could have worked temporarily FC Wichita decided against it.
The second option was to consider using the dilapidated Stryker Soccer Complex, which is owned by the City of Wichita and had never caught momentum behind it’s original purpose of catering to local and regional youth soccer teams. The stadium had no locker rooms, no ticket offices, no actual press box, and the grass was a tall fescue blend which isn’t edict for professional soccer. Although it was difficult for many to understand that a team with professional ambitions would initially select an amateur venue, FC Wichita did just that. Shumaker and Inlow ambitiously decided to reach for the ultimate dream, and FC Wichita never looked back, piling up Conference Championships and national media attention none the less. In 2018 Inlow was announced as general manager of a new facility group that will lease to FC Wichita.
“We took a leap of faith in our soccer community,” said Shumaker. “We knew that it would require the support of local soccer fans to show city officials and investors what could be. Over presenting a professional product in a amateur stadium is something we wanted to be careful of. We certainly didn’t want to turn off a future soccer supporter because the atmosphere wasn’t as electric as a high level match should be. We didn’t truly market to the best of our ability, and instead decided ownership would shoulder operation costs with hopes that one day we could introduce the proper professional soccer to Wichita and make the entire city proud.”
The city pride that Shumaker refers to goes far beyond soccer for FC Wichita. Inside the club crest you will notice the Wichita Flag, a centerpiece for all things Wichita over the last 3 years. Recently it started Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, and has quickly found it’s way into nearly every home and business in Wichita. It is the one thing you will certainly notice in Wichita everywhere you go.
FC Wichita’s relationship with the flag is special because the crest was designed in 2013, more than 2 years before it became a household item. At the time FC Wichita was constantly explaining that Wichita actually had it’s own flag and a piece of that is a huge part of what the club logo stands for. The goal was to design something that could be worn anywhere to represent your community and not necessarily be sports themed.
“I’m certain that 99% of Wichita didn’t know we had a city flag at the time,” said Shumaker. “It is so cool to see what happened after our usage, when the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and Visit Wichita picked up and ran with it. Now you see it incorporated into thousands of businesses and sports logos around town. We’re glad to be a part of that history.”
FC Wichita believes much of it’s on field success is due to that kind of relationship with the community. Current and former FC Wichita players can all agree on one thing, if there was a better venue then nothing would stop FC Wichita from reaching it’s potential. Although Wichita does not have nearly the population for a major league sports franchise, the club and it’s players feel like Division 2 is not out of reach. In fact FC Wichita has proven over the last few years that not only can it compete in the top divisions, but after the 2018 US Open Cup run Wichita proved it can win, against all odds and in dramatic fashion if necessary. US Soccer said it best, “FC Wichita showing they belong!”
A lot is at stake in Wichita ahead of the 2019 season. FC Wichita has set the goal of improving local soccer culture by connecting with soccer players and fans throughout the city. Match tickets and season schedule will be out in the coming weeks. #YourTeamYourCommunity