INDIANAPOLIS – With the waves of heat rising off the turf on an already steamy morning, the quest for a burgeoning franchise began.
Basic drills, intense scrimmages and even a few wind sprints encompassed the three hours of tryouts on July 16th at IUPUI’s Carroll Soccer Stadium. The efforts of the 30 or so players came under the watchful eye of Juergen Sommer, who weeks before had been named the first coach of the North American Soccer league’s expansion franchise Indy Eleven.
Now he was looking at his first batch of athletes that would take the field for the team when they began their first season in April. It was just the start of what would be a worldwide search for talent over the coming months so this was a chance find a “Diamond-in-the-Rough” player for his inaugural team.
“We definitely have some interest in a lot of the player that we’ve seen today,” admitted Sommer of this tryout which was loaded heavily with local players.
One of those was someone familiar with the lay of the land of this particular venue-the one which Indy Eleven would call home for their first season. Wearing his light green No. 13 jersey during this morning session, Chris Wey felt right at home at Carroll Stadium, where he played for four years with IUPUI.
“It’s really exciting,” said Wey after completing the first session of the two-day tryout in July. “Everyone who plays soccer always has dreams of playing at a high level.”
His work on a few steamy days in July and a couple of tryouts later in the fall have given life to that aspiration of the Munster native and Indianapolis resident. Wey was chosen to join the Indy Eleven for their first season starting with training camp in Arizona in February then extending into the spring and fall NASL seasons.
“It means everything, it’s a whole different stage in life,” said Wey of the chance to play for the eleven. “A whole different stage in terms of my playing experience.”
Professionally, it’s a radical change from his previous experience. One that will occur four miles to the west of his more permanent profession.
Sitting up against a ledge with a red marker in his right hand, the daily routine for Mr. Wey begins.
One by one, 5th grade students make their way up from their desks up towards him with a few papers in hand. Wey quickly looks it over, then a few waves of the red marker and some timely advice for the youngster in front of him.
“How many total shirts does she have,” asks Wey, pointing to the division problem in front of him.
“18,” quietly says the student, which he confirms by saying the number.
“What are the chances she’ll choose a white shirt,” then asks Wey and again he waits for an answer. Sometimes they are right, sometimes he steps in.
This has been the professional life of this aspiring soccer player for the past five years-full time teaching. He instructs a class of around 20 fifth graders at the Wayne Township School District’s Garden City Elementary school teaching them everything from writing to science and, yes, even a tricky math problem.
“It’s just a very rewarding profession,” said Wey of his teaching, which he began shortly after graduation from IUPUI. “Helping kids and seeing a lot of kids that walk different paths of life but kids that you could see how you were when you were a kid.
“I like to give back.”
Growing up Wey didn’t believe this was the way he would do it. A self-proclaimed “Troublemaker”, he originally was seeking a career in business when he left IUPUI and professional soccer wasn’t in the cards at that point a new path began.
“I was a business major, but it wasn’t going in the right direction for me,” said Wey of his early career path-one that was somewhat inspired by soccer.
Having worked with kids during camps during his time at IUPUI, he found a certain love for teaching that didn’t exist before and decided to eventually pursue it as a career discipline. That’s how he ended up at Garden City Elementary and on this January day, walking around desks answering math questions before the students headed off to art class for an hour.
“I decided ‘What is it that I enjoy doing?’ I enjoy doing camps and coaching little kids and soccer-and it translates to the classroom,” said Wey of teaching. “It did very well.”
His peers can attest to the work he has done in the Wayne Township School District, including Garden City Assistant principal Beau Hill. A longtime member of the district, he transferred to Wey’s school only a few months before but has seen the impact he’s had on the students in a short time.
“When the kids look up to him, he’s such a great role model,” said Hill of Wey. “It’s not really with his words, it’s with his actions. Being able to be friendly, call people by their first name and really ask their staff members about their families that makes us all close and tight-knit.
“A wonderful personality but really just a great work ethic and his dedication for the students alone is just something to admire.”
So would the story he would put together towards the end of 2013.
Despite a solid career and reputation in the teaching world, Wey never stopped looking to achieve his main goal out of college.
“I told myself at the beginning of the year that I was going to tryout for some team,” said Wey of 2013. “At the time I didn’t know it was going to be Indy Eleven.”
But while working at a soccer camp at Indiana University in Bloomington, a chance meeting brought him a bit closer to a new franchise. Also at this camp was Sommer, who was just beginning to piece together players for his first Indy Eleven roster. An exchange of information led to Wey earning a spot at the July tryout and the beginning of his professional soccer career.
“The rest is history,” said Wey of the time after his meeting with Sommer-and it’s a positive one.
Following the initial July 16th and 17th workout at Carroll Stadium, Wey’s performance earned him another two-day tryout with the team ten days later. With another few sessions of strong play, Wey found himself back in another workout in September and then a four-day camp in October.
All this time, players with professional experience in all levels of soccer were invited in to tryout alongside Wey in hopes of continuing their paid soccer careers. A month passed after that tryout, with Wey patiently waiting for word from the Indy Eleven while continuing his duties at Garden City Elementary.
“Then I got a phone call,” said Wey-who was notified that he would be joining the team for the 2014 season.
With one correspondence, one profession began while another was put on hold.
After dissecting a few more math problems at some of his student’s desks, 9:35 A.M. arrived.
“Girls, line up for me please,” said Wey as he started getting the students ready to head down to their art class.
Once they did so, the boys followed suit, lining up in an orderly fashion before they were to head down the hall. Wey followed behind and led them to the art class before returning for just a bit to his classroom, which will be his place of employment for only a short time.
This Thursday is the second-to-last day in which he’ll work at Garden City Elementary before he joins the Indy Eleven for their training camp in Arizona starting in February. It will be an active and intense time for Wey, who will not only train but take part in exhibition games against MLS team also working out in the area.
There will be no back-and-forth for Wey, whose class will finish the year with a substitute teacher as he takes the field in the NASL. Coming back in the fall will also be an issue considering the season could run as late as November.
“Teaching’s going to have to be put on hold for now,” said Wey. “But upon the completion of my soccer career, whenever that is, hopefully I’ll have a job back here.”
While he’s away playing soccer, though, Hill believes he will still have an impact on the kids who watch him as a player and remember him as a teacher.
“For our students to see one of our teachers set an additional goal, to reach for it, to work for it and ultimately become successful at it, it’s a huge impact on their lives,” said Hill. “As we work with all our students about setting our high goals and doing everything we can to achieve and to reach those goals, Chris is just a great role model in that aspect.”
While Wey admits he will miss the days like the one on his final Thursday at Garden City, he is excited for what is ahead on his most unusual path to professional sports.
“Most people would probably go from playing a professional sport to a new occupation. I went with my first occupation now going to soccer which, like I said, was my Plan A,” said Wey. “It will be a different transition but I think being in a professional work environment such as teaching, it will translate directly into being a professional athlete.”
In some ways, it already has. Starting with that steamy morning workout last July.