The idea started with three basic Newport News soccer dads, sitting around a kitchen table and dreaming.
The trio – Mike Vest, a sports industry veteran; Dan Chenoweth, a partner at an accounting firm; and Kevin Joyce, a financial adviser – had seven sons between them. All of their boys loved watching and playing soccer, whether on local teams, in their backyards in Hilton Village or via video games.
But they didn’t have a community team to cheer for, Vest recalls thinking. So, he and his friends decided to create one.
Vest is now chairman of the Lionsbridge Football Club, a semi-pro summer team that will open its inaugural season next month in Newport News.
Composed largely of college athletes, the squad will play nine home games at Christopher Newport University’s Pomoco Stadium, with the first set for May 16.
Individual game tickets and season packages are currently on sale.
“We wanted something that is fun, affordable and accessible for families,” Vest said. “It won’t just be soccer — we will have festivals with food trucks, fireworks, bounce houses, picnic tables, beer tents,
special promotions. It’s meant to be a chance for people to really come together and talk and laugh.”
Vest, 40, is a lifelong sports nut. He grew up in Kansas City, home of the football Chiefs and baseball Royals, and went to college at the powerhouse University of Kansas. He also loved playing sports — soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis and more — although he admits he wasn’t the greatest athlete.
“I’d say my soccer playing career ended around the 7th grade,” he says with a laugh. “I was lucky enough to realize at a young age that I was not going to be a professional athlete. So early on, I was trying to figure out other ways to have a career in sports.”
At Kansas, Vest majored in journalism and began working in the Jayhawks’ sports information office as a sophomore. After graduation, he moved on to media and marketing positions at Wake Forest University, the Big Ten Network in Chicago, the IMG sports management company and lastly the Atlantic 10 Conference, which has headquarters in Newport News.
With his wife Kristie, Vest also is the parent of another sports-loving kid, son Jackson. At age 5, Jackson already is in his third season of playing soccer and thinks Lionsbridge FC “is the coolest thing ever,” Vest said.
“All our kids do. We probably are getting ‘Dad-of- the-Year’ trophies.” The wives, he jokes, initially weren’t so sure but have been fully supportive.
Lionsbridge FC is part of the Premier Development League, a nationwide collection of about 75 teams that showcase top amateur soccer talent.
Named for the landmark bridge at The Mariners’ Museum, Lionsbridge has multiple players from Hampton Roads colleges on its 25-man roster, along with a few athletes from neighboring states and international programs.
Vest, Chenoweth and Joyce are grateful for the quick support they’ve garnered from local fans, business sponsors, government and economic development leaders and CNU, which agreed to lease its 4,200-seat stadium for games.
The 2018 season is scheduled to run from May 5 — an away game — through July 13, with playoffs to be determined.
Along with regional PDL teams, home opponents include D.C. United’s Under-23 squad and the All-Navy Soccer Team. Home season tickets are $59 for adults and $14 for youth (12 and under), while individual games are $8 for adults and $2 for youth. Kids ages 3 and under get in free.
Vest can’t wait to get kicking. “This team is about community at heart,” he says. “I’ve seen it so many times in my life: sports really can bring people together.”
For information on Lionsbridge FC and game tickets, visit www.lionsbridgefc.com.
This story was published in partnership with our sister publication, Hampton Newport News Daily.