The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

February 1, 2014

Demize bringing professional soccer to Joplin

Joplin’s sports scene continues to grow.

City officials announced Friday that the Joplin Demize will begin play in the National Premier Soccer League this summer. The NPSL is a professional men’s league.

The team’s home field will be at the Joplin Athletic Complex, where the city has relocated bleachers from the vacant Gabby Street Park for spectator seating.

“This is something that is huge for Joplin,” mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said.

A previously unused portion of the operations building at the JAC has been converted to fully-functional locker rooms for both home and away teams to utilize.

Chris Hanlon, Director of Soccer Operations, said the team is hoping to draw 400-500 fans at home games.

“We’d like to sell out every game,” he said. “That’s our goal. And if we fall a little short of that this year, then we’ve got something to work toward in the future.”

The Joplin Demize, an extension of a Springfield Demize club in the USL Premier Development League, has been brought to town by collaborative efforts of the city’s Parks and Recreation Director Chris Cotten and Joplin attorney Ed Hershewe, the expansion team’s owner.

Cotten said he first reached out to Hanlon in late 2012 about this project. Hanlon worked for Springfield’s Demize team as its Director of Soccer Operations at the time.

“The Springfied Demize has been in existence since 2007,” Cotten said. “And its developmental academy, the Total Demize, has been very successful in developing talent and has sent many young players in the Springfield area off to college on soccer scholarships.”

Teams in the NPSL have the option to pay certain players small salaries, but those individuals must give up their amateur status and any college players on the team cannot receive monetary compensation at the risk of NCAA violations.

Hanlon said the Joplin Demize will most likely be made up of collegiate players from the region in the beginning while the team invests in facility upgrades and other operational costs.

“Until we establish the team, we won’t pay our players to play,” Hanlon said.

One of those players is Kaleb Romero, a former Joplin resident.

“I grew up here but I went to high school in Nixa,” Romero said. “Most of my family still lives here ... It actually means a lot. A lot of my friends and people I’ve played soccer with over the years grew up here and they either had to go to Tulsa or Springfield for soccer. There was really never a high level of play in the Joplin area, especially after Missouri Southern lost its program. I think this is going to open up a lot of doors for some good players to be seen.”

The soccer announcement comes 10 days after the Joplin City Council approved a lease agreement of Joe Becker Stadium to bring independent professional baseball to town.

Hanlon said he is not concerned about competing with a potential American Association baseball franchise in Joplin, saying the Joplin Demize will play only five to seven home games its first season, whereas the baseball team is expected to play approximately 50 home games.

“We’d actually like to partner with the baseball team,” he said. “And try to, you know, get people that like baseball to like soccer, get people that like soccer to like baseball. I mean, it’s all going through the Parks and Rec, and the partnerships that both organizations are trying to create with the city. So it only makes sense, at some point, for us to get on the same page and try to help each other.”

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