OBETZ, Ohio – Fans filing into Crew Stadium on Saturday will likely walk past some of the rock formations and boulders he helped move, or catch some shade under one of the trees he supervised the planting of surrounding “The House That Lamar Built.”
For the younger crowd just returning to high school this week, the 15th season of the Columbus Crew means most of them can’t remember a time when there wasn’t Major League Soccer.
Middle-school kids have no recollection of the travails Lamar Hunt went through to get the first soccer-specific stadium in the league built after two ballot failures, or his investment of $28 million to open the doors in May 1999.
But soccer aficionados of all ages will have a better understanding of the Crew founder and MLS pioneer on Saturday afternoon, when a statue of Hunt is dedicated prior to the match between Hunt Sports Group teams the Crew and FC Dallas.
“I hope current Crew fans and Crew fans for many, many generations will have the opportunity to learn a little bit about the man who got it started,” said Clark Hunt, Lamar Hunt’s son and the chairman of Hunt Sports Group.
“My father dedicated much of his career to professional soccer and was such a catalyst for the growth of Major League Soccer and, of course, in the case of Crew Stadium, really laid down the model for Major League Soccer in terms of soccer-specific stadiums,” he added. “It’s very appropriate that we have a statue to remember his contributions toward Crew Stadium.”
The nearly 10-foot high statue is the same design as those at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City – where the Hunts own the NFL Chiefs – and FCD’s home, Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. The 4-foot base is different on each, with inscriptions suited to the location.
“One of the primary objectives is to never lose sight of his vision,” Crew president Mark McCullers said. “Anything we can do to make sure that is never forgotten is to everybody’s benefit. It’s neat to physically have him there looking over the stadium and our organization. I think it’s symbolic.”
Saturday is the first of what McCullers plans to be an annual Lamar Hunt Legacy Day whenever the Crew host FC Dallas. There is talk that the preseason Pioneer Cup game between the clubs will be elevated to a regular-season battle for a trophy in the two-game series.
“Having something that is competition-related between the two organizations makes a lot of sense, and for us to coincide when we play Dallas in the regular season is more worthy of Lamar’s memory than trying to do an exhibition match,” McCullers said. “It’s a way for us every year to reflect on what Lamar meant to this organization and the city.”
Lamar Hunt – who passed away in December 2006 – touched the lives of many in the Crew organization.
“The guy was character and genuinely a good-hearted person, a loving guy and a passionate guy,” assistant coach Mike Lapper said.
Said midfielder Duncan Oughton: “Hopefully, he’ll get the recognition throughout time that he deserves, because without pioneers like him, the game wouldn’t be where it is today.”
McCullers joined the Crew staff in December 1998 and met Hunt for the first time a month later.
“I remember specifically everybody calling him Lamar,” he said. “I could not bring myself to call him Lamar. I couldn’t do it. It was Mr. Hunt. It was sometime before I could bring myself to call him Lamar.
“With his demeanor and personality it was appropriate. He’s one of those people who only needs one name. When you say Lamar, you know who you’re talking about.”