Former Chief Deron Cherry: A Futbol Ambassador


AUGUST 2015 – Kansas City sports fans recognize the name Deron Cherry. After all, Cherry starred as a Chiefs free safety for more than a decade, earning All-Pro honors six times and was named to the NFLs all-decade team for the 1980s.  In 1995, he became a part-owner of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, thereby becoming the first NFL minority owner.

It is in a different kind of football, however, where Cherry has garnered new recognition. While he still enjoys American football, futbol – or soccer – has become his passion, and Cherry has his family to thank for that.

“That’s kind of where it started; I got all my kids into it when they were young,” he said. “They started when they were five years old. I started getting into the sport and the more I got into it, the more I learned. It was pretty cool. I learned a lot of really neat things about soccer.”

That was twelve years ago, and this year Cherry’s oldest will be playing at Lee’s Summit High School, while his 14-year-old will play for Rockhurst and with the Sporting KC Academy.  Cherry’s daughter will play for FC KC’s U12 team.

The Cherrys don’t do anything halfway, and once their children began playing soccer it became a fulltime occupation.  During soccer season, shuttling the kids to and from practice and games took all their time.

“A long time ago we were running kids all over the place,” Cherry said.  “It wasn’t like it is now. They didn’t have fields to practice on. One of the kids was practicing in an open field and another practiced at a park. I thought man, this is crazy. I wanted to build fields in my backyard where they could practice and they didn’t have to run all over the place.”

Youth-soccerThe lack of practice facilities gave Cherry’s wife Hope an idea. That blossomed into the recently announced Gateway Village project, a 230-acre soccer-centered development off 150 Highway in Grandview.

“Hope was kind of the catalyst for getting this project started,” Cherry said.  “I think she got kind of tired of listening to me complain.  She was smart enough to think about it and said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had some place to play here?’ Then I got together with (developer) Kurt (Pycior).  We had him draw up some plans. We put it on hold and three or four years later, we started thinking about it again. That’s when we wound up purchasing land in Grandview, and now it’s coming close to being built.  It came about because of Hope.”

The project was formally revealed May 7 and is moving through a funding process.  The 15 lighted soccer fields would comprise the largest all-turf soccer complex in the world.

Cherry saw the need long ago.

“I thought it could be done anywhere,” he said.  “We’ve been working on the plans for quite a long time, even before the Sporting Blue Valley complex (Swope Village) was built.  We saw how much of a need there was on the Missouri side.  It’ll help kids on the Missouri side to have a facility.  The neat thing is, it won’t be in competition with Johnson County; it’ll be a way to enhance soccer in the whole Kansas City area.  Soccer is growing so fast.  We’ve got to have the facilities.”

Once the project has been approved and funded, it could open as early as autumn, 2016, with soccer fields anchoring a complex which includes 400,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants, 450 hotel rooms, 42 new homes and 300 upscale apartments, indoor recreation facilities, a water park and green space.

“We had the idea of being able to go to one place at one time and have everything there,” Cherry said. “It makes sense to do it like that. We started eight years ago. It takes a long time.  It’s not something that happens overnight.”

During those eight years, Cherry has witnessed the sea change that has taken place in Kansas City’s soccer landscape.

“Back then, soccer was growing, but it wasn’t nowhere near what it’s like today,” he said.  “I remember going to Arrowhead Stadium (to see the Wizards) with 8,000 people there in a stadium for 80,000. All of a sudden they sold (the team) and Sporting comes along and now they have their programs.”

Cherry’s oldest son tried out for the very first Sporting KC Academy U12 team, becoming an alternate.

“Just think about how it started to grow from there,” he said.  “We’d go to (CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the Wizards temporary home before Sporting Park) in KCK to watch the soccer games.  It’s come a long way and continues to grow.”

Cherry marvels at how soccer has become a prominent sport in America.

“The exposure, that’s how it has taken off,” he said.  “What’s happening now, it’s almost a revolution.  We were so far behind Europe.  With the population base we have here and the access to kids here in this country, we thought ‘imagine once this sport catches on’.  Now they get to make decisions whether they want to play the game.  It’s really given a lot of kids opportunities to make a career out it.”

How America has come to love soccer doesn’t surprise Cherry.

“One thing I like, probably the most, is that any kid can go out and play soccer,” he said.  “All you need is a pair of shoes and a ball, and you can play.  It’s not very expensive.”

He also lauds the inclusiveness of the sport.

“When they start playing it’s kind of the story of leaving no kid behind,” he said.  “No matter your athletic ability, there’s a place for you.  That’s the story of soccer.  There’s always a place for you.  There’s so many different levels of competitiveness you’ll always find a place.  There’s always the same kind of competition as you.  You get to have the best of both worlds and you don’t have to be a superstar to play.”

The important elements of youth sports are also present in soccer.

“I like the skills that it teaches, and the teamwork,” Cherry said.  “It’s fun from that standpoint.  Every kid has an opportunity to play at their own pace.  It doesn’t matter where you start; you work your way up.  There’s uniqueness about it.  Every kid develops at their own pace.  I see kids playing competitive (soccer), but not on the team they wanted, so they keep working at it and they can get to the level they want.  It’s kind of neat to see that.  That’s why I like it so much.  And I like the strategy.  It’s a thinking man’s game.”

His love of soccer doesn’t mean Cherry has abandoned his roots in the American game.

“I like football, too,” he said. “I don’t look at it as (either or).  I just love the sport.  I just want the game to be better.  One thing I tell people all the time:  ‘why not let your son play football?’  Until the eighth or ninth grade, by playing soccer they play with a lot of the same skills they need on the football field.  I think it’s a great transition sport into football.  I know a lot of people who played soccer when they were younger and now they’re playing football.”

Article by Marc Bowman

One Response to Former Chief Deron Cherry: A Futbol Ambassador

  1. livefreeoardye says:

    This is the USA. We play “Football”.

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