In the opening moments of the “God Save the Wings” documentary, Andy Chapman tells the people behind the camera that they don’t know what they’re doing.
What a kick.
With that introduction, the audience learns Chapman, a former indoor soccer star, is their irreverent guide through the 1980s Wichita Wings as the narrator and that the documentary won’t take itself too seriously. Reliving the personalities and the antics of the players and their effect on Wichita is the goal.
“It’s indoor soccer,” said Michael Romalis, producer. “Let’s have some fun.”
The Wings, as the documentary gleefully shows, ran full-speed after fun. They had fun on the artificial turf of the Kansas Coliseum, on the grass fields where they held clinics for youngsters and in Wichita’s nightclubs.
“The experience of going to the Kansas Coliseum in the 1980s was unlike anything, I think, in Wichita,” Romalis said. “It was loud. It was crazy. You got to know the players.”
Three Wichita State University alumni wrote, produced and organized the documentary about the glory days of the Wichita Wings professional indoor soccer club, from its founding in 1979 into the early 1980s.
“It went beyond soccer,” said Adam Knapp, a 1993 communication graduate. “It was just such a cool, unique niche part of Wichita’s pop culture. (Wings goalkeeper) Mike Dowler gives it a very high compliment . . . he said the movie was a time capsule, which was really what we were going for all along. There was only one time like that.”
“God Save the Wings” debuted on Feb. 22 at the Orpheum Theatre, and it went so well that organizers planned to show it again on April 10. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed their schedule. Now their hopes of entering it in film festivals around the world are largely on hold.
Romalis, who holds sociology (2000) and nursing (2009) degrees from Wichita State, produced the documentary. Knapp co-directed. Tori Deatherage, a 2013 business major, also served as producer and led fund-raising for the one-hour, 40-minute film.
Kenny Linn directed with Knapp. Tim O’Bryhim produced and, with Romalis, wrote the book “Make This Town Big,” which inspired the documentary.
If you weren’t in the Orpheum that night, you missed coach Roy Turner and many of the team’s stars, such as Chapman, Dowler, Kim Roentved, Chico Borja and Kevin Kewley. The documentary, three years in the making at a cost of roughly $30,000, brought them together for a 1980s reunion. The seats filled with fans who remember winter nights at the Kansas Coliseum, screaming for goals, hating the St. Louis Steamers and membership in the Orange Army, the team’s booster club.
Romalis grew up a huge Wings fan and his archives of video, newspaper stories, pictures and memorabilia give the documentary authenticity. As a student, he researched school work in Ablah Library, between copying stories about the Wings from The Wichita Eagle.
"God Save the Wings" documentary
Knapp remembers the Kansas Coliseum as a place he and his high school friends fit in with the diverse crowd of newcomers to the sport. Deatherage didn’t grow up with the Wings, so she served as the documentary’s connection to audiences who knew little about the times.
“The goal of this film was to be able to communicate exactly how big of a deal the Wings were in the 1980s,” she said. “It was kind of cool to be able to help make sure we could completely bridge that gap in telling the story to those who weren’t already familiar with it.”
With Romalis serving as historian and editor, Knapp used his writing and reporting skills for interviews. He brought documentary experience after directing the 2016 film “Out Here in Kansas.”
Deatherage, who owns marketing firm Sauv Strategics, organized events such as the premier night and raised money. She worked full-time while attending Wichita State, which prepared her for managing the documentary’s off-camera demands.
They kept costs down by not paying themselves.
“It was a passion project,” Deatherage said. “I could tell these guys really cared about this, about making it happen, about sharing the story.”
Knapp, a former sportswriter at The Wichita Eagle, leaned on the influence of beloved Wichita State Professor Les Anderson, who died in 2011, during interviews. Knapp wanted goalkeeper Brad Higgs, a figure in one of the franchise’s lowest moments, to add that perspective.
“Les Anderson was my advisor and my biggest influence in journalism – that kicked in when I initially called Brad,” Knapp said. “It probably wasn’t a popular decision. He was known as the backup goal-tender who blew the big game. But he ended up being kind of our secret sauce.”
Indoor soccer in Kansas, starring athletes from England, Wales, Ireland, Denmark and Argentina, and battling New York, St. Louis, San Diego and Kansas City. Fun, orange-colored, brash, exotic, sexy, loud and new.
Without the documentary, people might not believe it happened.