The growing popularity of the World Cup in the United States is not lost on founding members of the Wichita Wheathawks soccer club as they celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary this weekend.
“I was in the Fox and Hound the other day for the U.S. game. Standing-room only, wall-to-wall people,” original member Matt Knoblauch said. “Back in ’74, we were not able to buy player uniforms because no one sold soccer uniforms.”
The Wheathawks will tell stories like that at Quincy’s Bar and Grill on Saturday night, reminiscing about the old days and appreciating the impact the club has had in terms of players, coaches and a foundation for soccer locally.
“When we started, there were six to eight team, all ethnic groups…,” said Bobby Bribiesca, who later became a longtime coach at Northwest High. “The kids that made this team were American guys that were here, let’s put our own team together.”
Members of the Wichita Soccer Club and Escuadra Mexicana banded together with the aim of finding better competition for adult players.
With the financial help of Terry Scanlon, then the president of a local Coors distributor, the club got serious and played in matches and tournaments across the Midwest.
“He said, ‘OK, I’ll sponsor you, but all I want out of the whole thing is that you help develop soccer,’ ” Knoblauch said.
The club remains active in the Kansas Soccer League as an over-35 team. Knoblauch said the club has won more than 50 league and tournament championships with an overall record of 587-195-94.
The Wheathawks have several notable alums. Bribiesca and Alan Shepherd have been coaching mainstays in high school for more than three decades. LeBaron Hollimon was a Wings indoor star and one of a handful of Wheathawks who played professionally.
After years of playing on unkept fields at city parks, the Wheathawks now play at the soccer-dedicated Stryker Complex in northeast Wichita.
“Back in the old days, we took care of our own fields,” Knoblauch said. “If you wanted to play, you had to buy your own net, mark your own field, do your nets. Nets aren’t cheap.
“If you wanted to do anything, you did it yourself. You didn’t depend on anyone else.”
Reunion games will be held at Orchard Park at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday.