Crossing The Wyandotte County Line Is Sometimes The Only Option For Youth Soccer Players
Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, is in its fifth season as the home of Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer. For the money spent on what is regarded as one of the best soccer venues in the country, very little so far has been invested in Wyandotte County for youth soccer.
But changes are taking place.
Amanda Guerra lives close to Wyandotte High School. Her ex-husband, who lives in Olathe, thought she was crazy to choose KCK as the place to live after their divorce nine years ago. Attending a home game to see her daughter play is the easy part. Her daughter, Cheyanne Woltkamp, is finishing her freshman season with the Wyandotte Bulldogs.
After Woltkamp completes her high school season, she’ll turn to club soccer. But she’ll have to go south to Johnson County, where she plays for the Kansas City Legends. That’s where Guerra steps into her self-described role as Wyandotte County’s official soccer mom.
It started about nine years ago when Guerra said Cheyanne shared her dream.
“She (Cheyanne) told me she wanted to play for the women’s national team. I said, ‘Is that what you want to do when you grow up?’ And she said yes. I said, ‘OK, I will do whatever it takes on my end to get you there, but you have to put in what it takes also.’ That was the deal we made.”
When Cheyanne Woltkamp started out with the Legends’ club team five years ago, she says she noticed a perception about her when her teammates learned she lives in KCK.
“They were like, ‘Oh, she goes to school over there. She probably doesn’t know what she’s doing ... until I got the ball. I took it up (the field). I did what I can do with the ball,” said Woltkamp. “Then they were like, ‘Oh, she can do something with the ball.’”
Wyandotte High School soccer coach Josh Wikler said the perception that Cheyanne Woltkamp encountered is not uncommon.
“A lot of the girls here may be really good, but they can’t afford to play club in Johnson County,” he said.
Andy Barney started the Kansas City Legends Club in 1989. It’s part of an international company based in Merriam called Happy Feet Soccer, which has 93 franchises in the U.S. and more in three other countries. Barney said his organization dispels the perception that Wyandotte County kids are unable to play in Johnson County because of affordability.
“We have a personal philosophy in our club. We find a way to get the kids involved and irrespective of whether they can afford to or not,” he said. “We find a way to make it work for them.”
Sporting Kansas City is also taking a lead role in encouraging the development of youth soccer across the county line. With the pending completion of the training center for U.S. Soccer close to Sporting Park, the hope is that youth soccer will grow more in Wyandotte County. Right now, there’s only one youth soccer club for boys, and one for girls in Wyandotte County.
Betsy Maxfield, in charge of soccer projects for Sporting KC, said the team is well-aware of the tremendous room for growth. She said Sporting has approached some of the bigger youth soccer clubs in the area about opening satellite clubs in Wyandotte County.
“The parents that grew up playing are now having the kids that are as young as 4 through 8 that are looking for that first introduction to soccer,” said Maxfield. “They live there, they work there. Now they need somewhere to play there.”
But in Wyandotte County, parental involvement sometimes can be a challenge.
On senior day for the girls’ soccer team at Wyandotte High School, the seniors are honored for their contribution to the team. Nine seniors walked with their escorts, typically their parents, but none of the nine have both parents with them. Six of the nine have just one.
Wikler said, regrettably, Amanda Guerra is the exception, not the rule.
“There’s only a handful of parents and it’s senior night,” said Wikler on senior night. “But Miss Guerra is there every night, every game home and away. She’s videotaping. Her daughter and her will go over the tape after the game. In general, though, it (interest) is pretty low.”
Andy Barney knows there are kids just like Cheyanne Woltkamp in Wyandotte County. But without parents involved, it’s a tougher battle.
“If there’s somebody in the family that’s willing to do some driving, it’s beyond the ability of our staff to drive all over Kansas City and pick people up obviously,” said Barney. “But as long as people can get the kids to our facility, to our training fields, one or the other, then we’ll take it from there. We’ll make sure they’ll have a wonderful developmental experience.”
Developmental is the key word.
In 2008, the MLS office in New York sent a mandate to its franchises. The message: Bring U.S. soccer on par with the rest of the world. The method: youth programs.
Based on several soccer-connected organizations that call Kansas City home, such as the national office for soccer coaches, this area has turned into a soccer hotbed. But there’s still work to be done.
Perhaps one day soon, young players like Cheyanne Woltkamp won’t have to travel across the county line to grow as a soccer player.
This look at the line between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Become a source for KCUR as we investigate Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.