I have been caught up with the Wichita Wings the past few days.
Not the new Wings, who play their first game tonight against the Missouri Comets at Hartman Arena. But the old Wings, who were in existence for 22 years and reached a level of popularity that rivaled the city’s affection for Wichita State basketball, if you can imagine that.Andy Chapman, center, was one of the best and most popular Wichita Wings players ever.I have been talking to several former Wings and will write about some of them in my blog over the next few days. Call it a “Where Are They Now – Wings Edition” feature that kicks off with an update on Andy Chapman.
Chapman, 52, was one of the stars of the first Wings team in 1979. He played a total of eight seasons in Wichita during two stints with the Wings and was one of the most popular players in franchise history. Let’s just say he had exceptional talent and the ladies loved him.
Chapman, like every former Wings player I talked to, loved his time in Wichita. He’s now director of a youth soccer organization in Birmingham, Mich., near Detroit, that has 34 traveling teams and a youth league of more than 500 members.
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“It’s growing to be real, real big,” Chapman said. “We have one of the best indoor facilities in North America. It’s a state-of-the-art, unbelievable place. We go pretty much year around; we only stop in July and part of August.”
Chapman’s favorite indoor soccer experience, though, happened inside the Kansas Coliseum during his time with the Wings.
“Little did I know I was going to spend the greatest part of my life at that time,” he said. “The whole time I was in Wichita was just incredible. That team meant everything to me.”
Chapman, who is from London, was only 20 when he joined the Wings. But he says Wings fans helped him adjust to a city he had not heard of before he was signed by Wichita. He was a natural scorer, with 307 goals during his MISL career that also included stops in Cleveland and Baltimore. He also played professional in various outdoor leagues in the United States, playing year-round from 1980-85.
His fondest memories, though, are of Wichita.
“Five days before Christmas I get a call from Joe Howarth and I flew into Wichita on Christmas day,” Chapman said. “I landed at the Wichita airport after living in Los Angeles for two years. One of the ladies from the team picked me up and took me down Kellogg and I thought to myself, ‘My god, what is this place?’ Little did I know. It turned out to be the greatest. I loved it.”
Chapman was disappointed when Cleveland picked up his contract from the Wings on March 1, 1985. He played one season there, then spent some time with the Baltimore Blast before returning to Wichita in 1988. By then, he wasn’t the same player, but he was happy to be back with the Wings.
“I really grew up as a person in Wichita,” he said. “I really want to get back to Wichita someday to see what it’s like now. I want to come back for a visit. That would be important to me.”
Chapman played outdoor soccer in Detroit in 1982. That’s where he met his wife, Patti, and they have been married for 26 years. They have three children and the oldest son, Dillon, is a soccer player who attends the University of London. His daughter, Lily, recently had a child.
“I’m a grandfather now,” Chapman said. “But I’m still in great shape, still at my playing weight. I really got into working out a couple of years ago and I’m fortunate my knees are still great.”
Chapman said he keeps soccer ready by playing with all of the kids who are in his youth program. He loves being around them and around the game he grew up loving and went on to make his occupation.
“When we were playing indoor soccer we made good livings,” Chapman said. “I turned down a $500,000, four-year contract in Cleveland in 1985 because I didn’t think it was enough. That was serious money in those days. But apart from that, those times were just magical. I don’t think they’ll ever be duplicated. One day the great historian, Ken Burns, should do a six-part series on indoor soccer and the cities that had it. We were at the forefront of soccer.”