Just as the Fort Wayne FC players and staff circled today on the calendar for the club's second-season home opener, so too did many fans.
Count Shane Linker, president of the 3 Rivers Regiment supporters group, among that list that will step through the gates of Shields Field at Bishop Dwenger when FWFC hosts Kings Hammer FC in USL League 2 Valley Division play.
Parking opens for tailgating 90 minutes before the 3 p.m. scheduled start.
“We have some (players) from all over the country this year, and I'm excited for it,” Linker said. “We just want to build off last year.”
As a collection of fans of soccer and Fort Wayne, the 3 Rivers Regiment helped hang flags and banners in the stadium. Last season, the Regiment bought flags to represent the home country of every player on the roster.
With weekly meetings scheduled throughout the offseason with FWFC office staff, Linker explained that outreach helped keep open communication lines between the club and fans. That inclusion, Linker hopes, will now extend to other fans curious about the group that featured Linker and vice president Christina Copeland, as well as children as young as seven, leading chants and songs last season.
“We have some new banners and new flags, and hopefully some new people coming out,” Linker said. “I know a lot of people thought maybe we were an exclusive group. We want everyone to come join us, stand, sing and wave flags with us.”
And for those seeking to enhance their game day experience, the club will open the two north parking lots just off Washington Center Road for tailgating at all home matches this season. Alcohol will be permitted, and security will patrol the lots to ensure safety. The club also announced several activities geared toward children available during game days.
As part of the club's focus on community involvement, Fort Wayne FC will partner with Humane Fort Wayne to present a “World Pup Legends” halftime show featuring dogs available for adoption. In addition, Blaze Pizza will run a weeklong special in coordination with the club, where Fort Wayne FC fans can enter a code for any online order with 20% of sales to be donated to Humane Fort Wayne.
“We really are focused on creating Fort Wayne FC fanatics,” FWFC operations director Laurie Perolio said. “We want to create an interactive experience for everybody. We have a kid zone in the stadium, and we want everyone to have a great time while they're (attending games).”
Those efforts in crafting a fan experience aided the recruiting process in advance of FWFC's second season, and should only continue to pay dividends, as coach Mike Avery explained.
“We have the best fan support in the league,” Avery said. “That's not hyperbole. When I was on the phone recruiting players, many of them played on other USL2 teams last year. They said, 'I want to come play there. When we played at your place, the game was amazing.'
“They come, it's a real event, there's real things going on, and that doesn't just happen. We have a lot of people behind the scenes that are doing a lot of great work, and it's our job on the field now to match that work.”
Fort Wayne FC
vs. Kings Hammer FC
When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Shields Field at Bishop Dwenger
Records: Fort Wayne FC 1-0-0 (3 points), Kings Hammer FC 0-1-0 (0 points)
Last match: Fort Wayne FC won at Kings Hammer FC, 1-0, on Tuesday at the Mustang Athletic Complex in Alexandria, Ky.
Stream: Available at ElevenSports.com