How the Scorpions Are Aiding Morgan's Wonderland
Sometimes you hear a story about football that is just so wonderful it takes your breath away.
This is just such a tale. It’s not one specifically for the Real Madrid community or the Manchester United community or the New York Red Bulls community – it’s for everyone who has ever followed any sport and felt uplifted by its ability to overcome some of the roadblocks life throws in our path.
The very heart of football, of most sports, is to bring us together. It allows us the opportunity to forget our troubles in that sweet, absolute immersion in the back and forth rhythm of playing or watching the game. Or, as in the case of the San Antonio Scorpions, it enables us to confront an issue head-on that society may prefer to sideline or marginalize.
The Scorpions are a fine team in their own right. They are the reigning North American Soccer League (NASL) champions and they have a real shot at being one of the next expansion teams to win a place in Major League Soccer.
But they are much more than just a soccer team. The are the only professional soccer team in the United States, and possibly the world, to operate entirely for charity.
With an idea so blindingly simple and so stunningly impressive, they have shown us all how sport really can give back.
All the profits raised by the Scorpions, from the seats to the hot dogs, goes towards funding Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park for special needs people that is based on the same San Antonio complex as the club’s stadium.
Since Morgan’s Wonderland opened five years ago it has attracted more than half a million visitors from 50 states and 49 countries around the world, with anyone suffering from cognitive and physical special needs getting in for free.
The success of the park owes much to the football team and its fans.
Talking to The Guardian, the Scorpions’ owner, Gordon Hartman, a successful Texas businessman, explained that he knew little about the game when he first came up with the idea, joking that he even had to Google the number of players on each side.
But he was determined to make a difference. His daughter, Morgan, now 21, was born with cognitive and physical special needs and while on a 2006 family vacation when she was 12, Hartman noticed that other kids were nervous of playing ball with her in the swimming pool.
“That always stuck with me,” Hartman said in an interview with The Guardian. “So I started thinking to myself more and more: there are many children and adults who miss out because others, perhaps, don’t know how to interact with them or there is not a place for them to really feel comfortable.”
He decided to create “the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park” and with the help of various charities, the city and the state, the dream was realized with the 25-acre Morgan’s Wonderland opening its doors to the public in 2010.
It boasted a wheelchair carousel, a room where you can play with your own shadow, a fishing lake and touchscreens.
With free entry to about 20% of guests, it was important to look at various revenue streams to help safeguard the park’s future and it was then that Hartman settled on soccer as a partner to the park.
“I didn’t want to just build a park and let it sit by itself; I wanted it to be part of something bigger,” he told The Guardian. “And then I discovered that there was an incredible desire for soccer in this town, but no-one had ever addressed building a nice facility. I thought: why don’t I put a nice soccer facility next to this hub, and literally hundreds of thousands of people will come and play soccer. They will rent the fields from us, and some of that money would go towards offsetting the costs of Morgan’s Wonderland.”
The same year that Morgan’s Wonderland opened, so too did the South Texas Area Regional Star Soccer Complex: a 75-acre facility next to the park, which would host amateur games and practices for those across Texas.
“Everything that happens there – every soccer tournament that we have, every club soccer practice, every youth league – somehow helps the special needs community and Morgan’s in particular,” said Ron Morander, general manager of Morgan’s Wonderland.
Hartman’s next step was to form ‘Soccer for a Cause,’ a group devoted to bringing professional soccer to San Antonio. In 2012, the Scorpions were admitted to the NASL and the next year the team moved into its own stadium, Toyota Field, which has a potential 18,000 capacity.
“Whatever structure we come up with, it will be one that will continue to raise the level of soccer in San Antonio from a professional sports perspective, but it will also play a role in helping special needs individuals,” Hartman told The Guardian. “I think the MLS welcomes the idea of by moving San Antonio to the MLS and there will be a large endowment created through the purchase of the assets that we have. I think they [MLS] would be very proud of that going towards something like that going towards special needs.”
In a week we have seen the gifted yet ridiculously cosseted Raheem Sterling smoking questionable substances and contract sums in excess of $150,000-a-week bandied about it is just so heart-warming to see a city and a team with such admirable principles.
The San Antonio Scorpions may want to play in the MLS, but the MLS needs the Scorpions even more.
We all do.