Fans turn out to see Wichita WingsBY JEFFREY LUTZ
The Wichita Eagle
PARK CITY — Brian Cushing drew the loudest ovation during pregame player introductions at the Wings' Black-Orange scrimmage on Wednesday night.
"Loudest" is an appropriate adjective, too, because the scrimmage for the new Major Indoor Soccer League team drew about five times more fans than some Wings staff members expected.
Anticipating a crowd of about 500-600, the Wings attracted around 3,000 fans. Many of them seemed to remember Cushing from his days with his previous incarnation of the Wings, who disbanded in 2001.
Cushing, a defender flattered by his welcome back to professional soccer in Wichita, was one who wasn't jolted by the attendance.
"I can't say I was surprised by the turnout," Cushing said. "I've been hearing a lot of people talking about coming out here for a couple of weeks now. I actually thought we might see more, but I'm not disappointed at all."
The Wings won't plan for low turnouts once the season starts. They're pushing for a sellout for the season opener against the Missouri Comets on Nov. 3.
If anyone can attest to the city's love affair with the Wings, it's Cushing, who attended Southeast High before playing soccer at Newman and then with the original Wings for four seasons before the franchise folded.
The 2001 season was Cushing's last as a professional soccer player. His rights went to Kansas City in a dispersal draft, but he chose to stay in Wichita to begin coaching as an assistant at Newman and managing an indoor soccer facility.
He also opened a sporting goods store with best friend Larry Inlow, a teammate at Southeast, Newman and with the original and current Wings.
"I honestly thought that maybe my (playing) days were over," Cushing said. "But I let Coach (LeBaron Hollimon) know that I wanted to be a part of it, and I came out and I earned my spot."
Cushing is one of 13 players under contract. There are 12 non-roster players in camp, and five will be selected to complete the 18-man opening-day roster.
At 36 and with no significant playing experience during the last decade, Cushing isn't the obvious player around which to build a defense.
But Cushing is a veteran of the indoor game and he understands its nuances. He also has maintained his speed, instincts and ball-handling abilities.
"You saw it here tonight, he doesn't look out of place at all," Hollimon said. "Plus, Brian, he's lived a clean lifestyle. He's looked after himself very well. That's what's allowed him to stay out here and compete with these guys."
Cushing also hasn't lost his eagerness to play.
"Just because I'm older now doesn't mean I still know everything," Cushing said. "I still have a lot to learn about this game, and I'm learning every day from LeBaron and from (assistant coach Sammy Lane). I'm just hoping I can filter that down and help this team win."
The Wings' current incarnation is a reminder of days gone by. Cushing, Inlow, Jamie Harding and Hollimon all played for the previous version, and their returns have given fans a familiarity with the team.
The four recognizable faces are beneficiaries of plenty of fan support, but that's not the only reason they came back.
"They're in the same boat I am," Hollimon said. "They feel like there's unfinished business because there was never a championship. They want to be a part of that success."
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