If Wings midfielder Jamar Beasley stands out because of his age, it’s because he continues to defy it.
The 33-year-old Beasley is the third oldest player on the team, and in many ways, its most valuable. He led the team in scoring during a difficult inaugural season, improbably finding stability in an adverse situation.
Beasley is building from last year by amping up his leadership role, as evidenced by the encouragement he offered teammates during Friday’s exhibition game at Hartman Arena. He’s still setting an example with his high level of play, too, and as part of a much-improved offense, Beasley will still be one of the Wings’ most important pieces.
"You just have to keep working," Beasley said. "You train hard every day (and) in the games you bust your butt. You just don’t quit. I’ve been a guy every season, day-in and day-out, battling with my teammates."
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Twenty-one players suited up for the Wings last season but only seven, including Beasley, played in every game. Injuries most badly damaged the offense, and teams began directing all of their defensive attention on Beasley.
In his Wings debut, Beasley scored six points, and he established a season best with eight points against Syracuse on Dec. 2. After tallying 39 points in the Wings’ first 11 games, he scored 20 in the last 13. After top playmaker Chile Farias was dismissed from the team in December, Beasley had no games of more than four points.
"You have injuries, you have guys out for a few games — all kinds of things go on," Beasley said. "It’s just something you have to deal with, you just have to keep playing. The one thing that can’t stop is your drive, your passion for the game."
If Beasley is shut down in a game this season, it will likely be because he’s one of many scoring threats, not the only one. The Wings signed reigning MISL MVP Geison Moura, along with another top scorer, Miguel Ferrer.
Frederico Moojen, who had 25 points in a six-game stretch last season before suffering a season-ending injury, is healthy, and Bryan Perez and Kevin Ten Eyck proved themselves as capable scorers when pressed into extended duty.
"What (coach LeBaron Hollimon) teaches is unselfishness," Beasley said. "We have so many weapons on the team and what’s good about that is everybody works together, everybody plays together, everybody’s looking for each other. There’s no selfish player on the team, which is great."
Beasley should prove to have plenty of value as a scorer, but he is embracing a leadership role, as well. He is one of the Wings’ most vocal players on the field and his energy can often motivates his teammates.
"That’s very important, to be a leader out here," Beasley said. "To me, it’s a honor to be 33 and still be in the league. What’s important is our veteran leadership with the young guys — everybody on the same page, keeping everybody together, and performing together."
The link continues — Last season three players who played for the original Wings franchise — Larry Inlow, Jamie Harding and Brian Cushing — were on the Wichita roster. This year there are no such players, but the legacy of the original Wings continues.
Inlow and Harding will serve on the staff of Hollimon, another former Wings player, along with assistant Sammy Lane, yet another member of the original franchise. The original Wings disbanded in 2001.
"Any soccer club you see around the world has their history plastered on their walls," Inlow said. "LeBaron, Jamie, myself, Sammy, we all are that history. What we’re doing now is creating our history with this brand new club by bringing in some of the old, but certainly creating our identity with some of the new."
Inlow played in all 24 games last season, scoring 10 points while his 27 blocked shots were third on the team. Giving up playing wasn’t easy for the 37-year-old who also is a firefighter for the Wichita Fire Department, but keeping his connection to the Wings provides a smooth transition to coaching.
"We have such a young team that I feel like I can give back the knowledge and the things I’ve learned over the years from the Roy Turners and Kevin Kewleys (former Wings coaches) and pass that on to these guys to make us better," Inlow said. "Unfortunately as a player I was never able to win a championship, so now my pure focus as a coach is to get them there."
Inlow said the fans who followed him from his days at Southeast High and Newman and through his years with the Wings gave him an interesting perspective for his career and a motivation to keep the Wings viable.
"There’s people that can go all the way back and tell me all about my career, and that’s something special," Inlow said. "I could never thank them enough for being a part of that, and I certainly want to make sure that that appreciation is known."
The long wait — Kareem Yearwood was a late-season pickup, but he played in just two games before a torn meniscus ended his year. All he has thought about since, he said, is the chance for redepemption.
But that might not come right away because Yearwood has an injured hamstring that kept him out of Friday’s exhibition and could cause him to miss the start of the season. Continuing to watch from the sidelines would be agonizing for Yearwood.
"It is very, very difficult having to be on the sides once again," Yearwood said. "It hurts, it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing. But as an athlete you have to prepare for that, that’s part of the game. I’m not complaining, I’m just taking it one game at a time and when my number is called I’m going to be ready."
The most frustrating part for Yearwood might be that his injury keeps him from showing the upside that made him the only returning player among three late-season signings last year.
"I think my major asset would be my speed and stuff like that," Yearwood said. "If I could bring my speed to mix with the skill players we have, I think we’d have a good mix of players to form a good team."