Like many young Wichita soccer fans during the 1980s and 1990s, a significant portion of Chris Lemons’ childhood was spent at the Kansas Coliseum watching the Wings.
When Lemons became a professional soccer player, his career took him to the East Coast, far away from Wichita even on road trips.
When the Wings re-formed last year, Lemons was a natural fit. During the last season-and-a-half, he’s been Wichita’s most reliable defender. His return home has been satisfying in many ways, including becoming boys soccer coach at Andover High, his alma mater, in 2011.
"I definitely remember most of my weekends, when I was a kid, driving out to the Coliseum to watch the Wings play," Lemons said. "That was a huge part of my soccer upbringing here in town, and something that encouraged me and pushed me and motivated me to be a professional soccer player."
By the time Lemons was ready to turn pro, the Wings weren’t an option. The team was disbanded in 2001, a year before Lemons began a career that included seven teams before the second incarnation of the Wings.
Many of those teams played east of the Mississippi — Lemons was on the roster of a team in Colorado but never played — and his closest road trip was still hours away from Wichita. A stop to play soccer near Wichita, even a brief one, was a longshot at best before the new Wings franchise was organized.
"We traveled to Kansas City and that would be the closest we would play in," Lemons said. "Being in Wichita is of huge importance for me. Being back here and just the fact that I’m able to play for the Wings, a team that I grew up loving, in front of my friends and family ... it almost makes me speechless, basically."
Lemons’ homecoming has allowed him to continue a coaching career that he said started about five years ago. The Wings’ renewal coincided with a job opening at the high school where he starred in the late 1990s.
Playing and coaching simultaneously offers Lemons a fulfillment he couldn’t achieve by doing just one. He calls playing an escape from day-to-day stresses, and coaching is an opportunity — albeit an occasionally taxing one — to pass along his knowledge and passion for the game.
"Playing has always been a place that I can leave behind everything that is going on in the world around me and just be able to play," Lemons said. "Coaching, even though you’re still involved in the game, it’s a lot more stressful. In playing, you can try and change something yourself and you can only do what you can do yourself and you can make adjustments within that.
"Within a team that you’re coaching, you have to try to make those adjustments with players, communicating with them and maybe showing them. It’s stressful, but it’s a good stress. I love the impact of being able to teach younger players."
Lemons has been equally balanced on the field. The 33-year-old’s value goes beyond being a veteran presence, as he is among the MISL leaders in blocked shots for a defense that is occasionally burdened by an underperforming offense.
A versatile performer, Lemons is a sporadic threat offensively who scored 18 points last season. But like any player assigned the task to hold down other offenses, Lemons is happy to surrender the glory scoring brings to fill his role.
"It is cool to, every once in a while, get a goal or get an assist, but our main role is to keep other teams from scoring," Lemons said. "That’s got to be our focus. If that goes away from being our focus, we become selfish. When we become selfish, the team aspect and the team success isn’t going to be there."