While we all adjust to new working and life arrangements and come to grips with a summer without Asheville City Soccer Club we will be running an online series to explore how the world’s game took root here in Western North Carolina.
In the second part of this series, ACSC CFO Jimmy Wheeler goes down memory lane and gets a history lesson on the Indoor Soccer Center from Bobby Somerville, the Voice of the Blues and previous manager and owner of the Indoor Soccer Center.
“The Indoor Center played a critical part in my own personal soccer journey,” said Wheeler. “I was lucky enough to play for a few high school league winning teams in the mid 2000s that include the majority or our ownership group. Those were some of the most exciting and fun games I have ever personally played in, despite what has to be a record for red cards in a season by ACSC partner, Andrew Hunter.”
What is the history/background of the complex?
It was quite the journey from the spark of an idea to our official opening in 1998 as the Pepsi Indoor Center. Looking back on how much the sport has grown both locally and nationally over the last 30 years it still seems crazy to me that we opened the Indoor Center before there were any public soccer fields in the community!
That lack of community playing space was what really led me and my partners to the idea of the Indoor Center. While we have so much space now, back then if someone wanted to organise a quick game or even a summer league they had to rely on school administrators and local property owners for use of their facilities.
I recall one crazy summer in the late 90s, where me and my partner Steve Woody were desperately trying to find a space for a summer league of 11v11 and 6v6 but we just had no luck. Our luck quickly changed as someone mentioned that there was a property at the Holiday Inn Sunspree (now Crowne Plaza) that potentially could fit our future league needs.
After we inspected the property it was quickly evident that there was potential for something special but our plans for an 11v11, and even a 6v6 league, would have to change. There was space to build a 100 yard field in the building but that would limit our ability to run multiple games. We made the bold choice (and right choice) to instead build two fields, each 120×80 (a little bigger than a basketball court) with home-engineered hockey-style boards and the first generation of infill artificial turf. The doors opened in 1998 and was an instant hit.
The short fields and small team sizes (4v4 +GKs) meant that a team was never more than one pass from scoring a goal. Play dictated movement and skill and you couldn’t afford stay-at-home defenders or attackers. The games were never boring and there were so many scoring opportunities, which made it exceptionally fun for everyone.
What role did the complex play within the development of the game locally?
First and foremost we wanted the Indoor Center to be a home for soccer in the community and our business name, Habitat for Soccer LLC, captured this mission.
I think we succeeded. The Indoor Center had office space that served as the first HFC office and the headquarters for the Asheville Splash, we had a dedicated meeting room that was utilised by group and team meetings and functions, and we provided administration services (including player registrations) for ABYSA and recreation leagues.
But the most impact we had for the local soccer community is that we incubated the emerging indoor soccer scene and we allowed soccer to be played any time of the year, under any conditions. Before the Indoor Center there were indoor leagues around, with about 60 teams, but with the new dedicated space we grew the league to more than 140 teams. We held day camps in the summer, and were the first place for lunchtime pickup soccer, which helped pave the way for the amazing group that plays at Memorial today.
What are your favorite moment(s) at the complex over the years?
I have so many fond memories but the one that sticks out the most is our annual Indoor Soccer Tournament.
In 1972, Hank Stenibrecher, a previous Secretary General of US Soccer and the then Head Coach at Warren Wilson College created the indoor soccer tournament and I inherited the event when I was a student there in the late 80’s.
In 1999, I moved the tournament to the Indoor Center and it absolutely blew up. Moving from a gymnasium to a 2-field site doubled the size of the event and more than doubled the intensity level. We held games on both fields Friday afternoon until late Saturday night with 40-48 college and high-level club teams, both men and women. The competition was fierce and the atmosphere matched it as the stands were always full with fans.
Another memory that springs to mind is when we had international superstar Ruud van Nistelrooy visit the Indoor Center. He popped in unannounced and it was just after he won the Golden Boot and Premier League with Manchester United in 2003.
Running the Indoor Center was an amazing experience and I want to thank the many people who supported it over the years, especially the large group of dedicated local soccer players, too many to name here, who invested their time and money in making it a reality.
While the Indoor Center is no longer operating, soccer is thriving in Asheville and that is a testament to the strong foundation built by the local community. I am proud to have played my part and look forward to working with the community and Asheville City SC in continuing to grow our sport.
Belong. Believe. Be Blue.