FORT WAYNE – Basketball, football soccer?
The first two sports are the undisputed kings in this state of 6.5 million inhabitants. The third is making up ground.
Fort Wayne’s own DaMarcus Beasley, a four-time World Cup player, has contributed to the sport’s rise. So too has the state’s largest university.
Indiana men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley is doing his best to spread the gospel of soccer around the Hoosier State.
Yeagley’s next voyage brings him to Fort Wayne for the Shindigz National Soccer Festival, a 14-year event started by Trine women’s soccer coach Terry Stefankiewicz.
We had no idea, absolutely no idea how many people would know about the festival, Stefankiewicz said, looking back at the first event in 2001. Last year, we counted 30 different state license plates in the parking lot.
The three-day festival will take place today through Saturday at Fort Wayne Sport Club.
The final game features Indiana and sixth-ranked Washington in an exhibition. But don’t tell Yeagley the final score doesn’t matter.
We all have goals in mind, he said. It’s really tough when you have your competitive hat on and you want to win these games. But you can’t lose sight of what it will tell us when the games count. It’s always a tough balancing act.
Exhibitions are really important for preparation. The Fort Wayne Shindigz event is a really good platform to see where we’re at as we head into our season opener in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers are coming off an 8-12-2 season, the most losses in program history.
It still included a memorable run to the Big Ten tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, keeping alive a streak that dates to 1986. Even so-called down years include trips to the postseason for IU.
Indiana – winners of eight national titles since 1982 – is short on experience in 2014, but expectations aren’t altered in Bloomington.
A goal that needn’t be spoken is the College Cup, though the unranked Hoosiers have their fair share of detractors this season.
The beefed-up Big Ten has four teams in the preseason top 25, and Indiana plays eight ranked opponents.
We’re young this year, so not many people are giving us a fair shake at that end reward, Yeagley said. We focus more on process goals and everyday things. If we do things well every day, those things will take care of themselves. We don’t get caught up in the end goals as much as the process.
For Fort Wayne soccer, growing the game has been a process, with the Shindigz festival playing a starring role. The ultimate goal is to have every field in the city filled for the event.
Eleven area high schools and a handful of colleges had to be turned away this year, according to Stefankiewicz.
We’re headed in the right direction, he said. Soccer has been really popular in terms of quality players in Fort Wayne for a really long time. What has transpired in the years since we started the festival is the knowledge of the people watching the game.
It used to be someone cleared the ball out of the box and everyone would applaud. Now they applaud good passing, someone creating space. They’re looking at the game way more intelligently. They understand the game and see the beauty of the game.
The Hoosiers’ current 32-man roster includes 13 Indiana natives.
Yeagley, born and raised in the state, has a front-row seat to the sport’s exploding popularity.
In Fort Wayne, Beasley’s World Cup career and the United States’ success have led to more kids playing.
Absolutely. We had the largest number of Indiana players on our championship team in 2012, which was over half our roster, Yeagley said. We’re seeing players from Indiana be some of our top players in the program. It says a lot about what the state is doing. It’s a good sign for the future.
Fort Wayne’s always been really good. We’ve always had a great pulse up there. Those players know about IU. We’ll continue to recruit Fort Wayne aggressively and bring those players to Bloomington.