Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 9, 2014

A score for local economy

BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Professional soccer is coming to Bluefield.

The Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors a member of the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League has a new home. Beginning this season the King’s Warriors will play at the East River Soccer Complex.

The team is part of the Nehemiah Group, a Christian non-profit organization founded by Dr. James Blume Jr., a Summers County physician, pastor and soccer enthusiast.

The announcement was made Saturday morning at a news conference in Bluefield.

“The King’s Warriors are the most visible component of the Nehemiah Group,” Blume said. “We have players from all over the world, from all continents… We are trying to make opportunities for kids in this area and bring a professional level of soccer to this area.”

The team made the move after it was notified last October that the facility in Beckley would not be available for the King’s Warriors.

“We want to thank the YMCA in Beckley for allowing us to start our United Soccer League’s PDL franchise there two years ago,” Blume stated. “But now we are excited to have the opportunity to play in Bluefield and represent all of Southern West Virginia and we expect to continue to draw fans and support from all areas of the region.” George Aiello is President of the East River Soccer Association and also head soccer coach at Graham High School.

“I am definitely excited about the King’s Warriors coming to play at East River,” Aiello said. “We (the ERSA board of directors) are excited that we can bring a higher level of soccer to the area. To bring a PDL team to the area is going to be great for our players so that they can see a higher level of soccer. It’s also a great opportunity for the community to bring some economic stimulation.”

Asked about the economic impact to the area, Aiello said, “I think it’s going to be big. We are going to have teams coming from Cincinnati, Louisville, the Carolinas and we’re going to have increased revenues for our hotels, they are going to have to have places to eat, it’s going to draw fans.”

Bluefield Vice Mayor Barbara Smith welcomed the team to town.

“This has been an inspiring, big step for Bluefield. I am glad to be standing here to welcome this team to Bluefield. We can see the positive parts that it may bring to economic development,” Smith said. “It is true, Dr. Blume, that when you close one door God opens another and this is going to be the door that we have been looking for. This will help Bluefield.” Mercer County Delegate John Shott talked about the development of the East River complex, spearheaded by Dr. Randy Lester and his wife Kim in the early 1990s and welcomed the potential economic impact the franchise will have on the local economy.

“Let me say I am doubly pleased with this announcement here today,” Shott said. “Pleased not only with the positive economic impact that this announcement has on our area, but also the positive impact it will have on our young people, with the influence not only in their skill development, but also their moral and social development through the leadership of Dr. Blume and his program.”

Mercer County Delegate Marty Gearheart got a laugh from the audience when he opened by saying, “I am here to tell you I don’t know beans about soccer.”

Gearheart continued, “I think there is an awful lot to be learned by hard work and competition and to be able to showcase those values with a professional soccer team, sponsored by a group that obviously has the moral based backing and training of the Nehemiah Group does, I don’t think it gets much better for us in Bluefield than what you guys are bringing here to the city of Bluefield.” Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce President Marc Meacham said, “It is a great opportunity for all of us in the Bluefield area, one, to showcase ourselves to the people that are going to be coming in here from out of town and I know Marie Blackwell with the Convention and Visitors Bureau is particularly excited about having folks here, letting them see what we have in the area. The commitment that these folks have made to Mercer and Tazewell County is just marvelous. From the chamber standpoint it’s a win, win, win situation.”

There are more than 100 teams in the United States and Canada in the United Soccer League and the Premier Development League has 64 clubs. The King’s Warriors will play in the five-team South Atlantic Division. Other teams in that division are the West Virginia Chaos, based in Charleston, the Carolina Dynamo from Greensboro, N.C., the Cincinnati Dutch Lions, the River City Rovers of Louisville, Ky., and the South Carolina United Bantams from Greenwood, S.C.

The season consists of 14 games and the King’s Warriors will play seven regular season games and one “friendly” at the ERSC. The “friendly” contest being against the USL’s Pro Division Charlotte Eagles. The King’s Warriors are an affiliate of the Eagles.

Maximum ticket prices will be $8 per game and there will be discounts for youth players. The first game will be Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m. against South Carolina United Bantams.

The Nehemiah Group and the East River Soccer Association are joining to make significant upgrades in the future to the soccer complex, including new dressing rooms and showers, a new press box, new stadium lighting and field improvements.

In addition to the professional-level team, the Nehemiah Group sponsors soccer programs for those age 4 through adult and Saturday began its indoor futsal program in Bluefield.