Larry Inlow’s heart is ready to give up the Wings team name, but his brain is still holding onto it. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Inlow, the coach of the B-52s, a first-year franchise in the Premier Arena Soccer League, played for both incarnations of the Wings, including the team that folded in the summer after two seasons when owner Wink Hartman couldn’t find a new buyer.
Inlow will always have a spot in his heart – and his brain – for the Wings, though, and it shows in his daily vocabulary, when “Wings” comes out instead of “B-52s.”
The B-52s begin their inaugural season Saturday at Dallas and will play their home opener next Saturday against Illinois at Hartman Arena.
“I caught myself a couple times doing that, I’ve got to tell you the truth,” said Inlow, a Wichita native. “As a player, I have great memories and very fond friendships that came from (the Wings), so it’s definitely a part of who I am.… But the B-52s are their own entity now.”
The new franchise isn’t straying too far from the old one, though. The orange-and-blue color scheme matches that of the original Wings, as does the aviation-themed nickname. Several former Wings players are on the roster, including locals Kevin Ten Eyck, Alex Moseley and Chris Lemons.
The familiarity extends to the PASL, which includes former Major Indoor Soccer League rivals Dallas, San Diego and Tacoma. The Dallas sideline features a most recognizable face – the Sidekicks’ coach is Tatu, a fierce enemy when he played for Dallas and beloved when he joined the original Wings.
“The fact that we’re still orange and there’s still some aviation ties there was no mistake,” Inlow said. “We wanted to keep that because the Orange Army (fan base) was such a big part of our community and our soccer team. We knew Wichita people would be disappointed, to say the least, if there was not orange involved.”
Now that they’ve captured important pieces of the previous franchise, the B-52s can go about forging their own identity. They’re doing that by bringing in currently unknown players who Inlow thinks can become just as popular as some of the most memorable original Wings.
While giving the nod to the returning players, Inlow also mentioned Cubans Maikel Chang and Heviel Cordoves as players who could quickly acclimate themselves to fans. Travis Pittman, a rookie from West Virginia, is another player with untapped potential.
Given basically a clean slate with which to build a roster, Inlow opted for a blend of local players and ones from afar. After 10 Wichita natives, the team includes players from both U.S. coasts and six from outside the country.
“That was one of our goals as the new franchise, was to try to stay as local as we can,” Inlow said. “We certainly looked at home first, but if we needed a job to be filled that we couldn’t think we could find locally, we would not hesitate to go shop outside the borders of Wichita for those players.”
The B-52s can separate themselves from the Wings simply by winning. The Wings, in two seasons as a new franchise, went 15-35 and failed to reach the playoffs. In a new league with many new players, Inlow hesitates to saddle the B-52s with expectations, but he believes they’re up to the task of what he thinks is improved competition.
“It’s kind of one of those things where whatever team can find the best mixture of the new players with players who have experience (will be successful),” Inlow said. “The sooner that whatever team that is – and hopefully that’s us – can settle down into their routine and work their strategies, the better off they’ll be.”