In 1996, Karen Barnes and her husband Dave saw an ad in the Columbus Dispatch that said Crew SC was hiring ushers for its inaugural season in Major League Soccer. The couple picked up the phone right away and was hired with the very first group. Twenty seasons later, Barnes is in love with the Black & Gold more than ever.
A club original, Karen has worked for Crew SC for all 20 seasons of its existence. A proud member of the Experience Team at MAPFRE Stadium, she became a passionate soccer fan as her kids started playing the beautiful game.
“We’re the generation that grew up with football, basketball, baseball,” Karen says. “Then our kids came along and they fell in love with soccer, so we fell in love with soccer too.”
A large portion of her passion stems from her youngest son Bob, who just finished his 19th season as the head coach of the Ohio Wesleyan women’s soccer team. In fact, one of Karen’s favorite memories at MAPFRE Stadium is Bob’s team winning the NCAA Championship and being honored at halftime of Crew SC’s match vs. D.C. United on April 27, 2002.
“They went out on the field and got recognized,” she says. “Since they were Bobby’s girls and my girls too, I loved that. It was pouring rain, but they got recognized.”
Another one of Karen’s favorite moments over the past 20 seasons is the inaugural match at the first soccer specific stadium in the U.S. For that special occasion, Crew SC implemented every exciting idea it could come up with, Karen says.
“The flyover with jets, the paratroopers, even the guy that starts the boxing matches—he says ‘let’s get ready to rumble!’ They drove him around in a Cadillac, he got out, two pretty girls on either arm,” she says. “I don’t know how they thought of all those things, but whoever thought of anything, they did it. And they won, too!”
Whether it’s Crew SC playing, the U.S. Men’s National Team hosting Mexico, or high school teams playing for state championships at MAPFRE Stadium, Barnes wants to be there.
“I get to watch part of the games. I’m retired, and this I can just enjoy,” she says. “Coming here, I get to see my season ticket friends and a lot of people I know, and then someone out of the blue will be there. When I’m getting ready, I wonder, ‘I wonder who it’ll be this week.’ And every week, it’s someone different. It’s so much fun.”
In 2004, Karen faced a heart-breaking setback when her husband Dave, who ushered nearby in the upper west end, passed away. For a while, Karen wasn’t sure she would return to MAPFRE Stadium.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to come back,” she says. “We ushered adjacent sections, and I’d look over to where he wasn’t standing and I’d want to cry. But you have to grow up and decide. And I decided. Every week when I’m getting dressed, I know I’m going to see someone here I haven’t seen in ages. And if I were sitting home, I would never see anybody.”
Karen has met lots of people at MAPFRE Stadium. She even met her physical therapist in section 126, who helped her recover from a total knee surgery two years ago. Karen says it was great to have him there as she improved, showing her progress walking up and down stadium stairs.
Soccer has connected Karen with a great deal of people and she says it’s a big deal in the Capital City—a place she’s proud to call home. Her son Bob still holds the scoring record at Gahanna Lincoln High School and was the first soccer player inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. In a few years, Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp will join him.
“There’s been another one, and Wil will join them as soon as he’s been out of high school 10 years,” she says. “But Bobby still has the scoring records. Wil’s senior year, they won the state title and then he went to Akron and did well, and now he’s on the National Team. He’s doing absolutely incredible, and he’s nice.”
Karen says she appreciates how accessible and compassionate the players are.
“It’s been neat that the players are accessible,” she says. “And then they come and do workshops at schools and they do a lot of things in the community, and that’s so neat.”
Karen has done a lot for the Crew SC community over the past 20 years, and she has been recognized for her dedication to the club and its supporters with the “Lamar Hunt Service Award.” In fact, she was the first recipient of the honor.
“This is my biggest treasure,” she says. “This means more to me than anything I can tell you. They’ve given out two or a three a year since then, but I got the first one.”
That certificate signifies Karen’s commitment to Crew SC, a commitment she has held ever since she picked up that phone 20 years ago.