by Ryan Bailey

CHARLOTTE — Tom Glick, president of Tepper Sports & Entertainment, was the keynote speaker at Friday night’s eighth annual Charlotte Soccer Awards Gala.

The ceremony, held at the Project 658 Center in East Charlotte, celebrated the impact of soccer in the city and its surrounding areas while honoring the youth players, coaches and organizations who have made a difference in the community.

After some of Charlotte’s brightest youth prospects and leading coaches were honored for their achievements, Glick began his keynote by acknowledging the rich soccer culture of the city that has provided an ideal foundation for Charlotte MLS to succeed.

“We’re not bringing soccer to Charlotte,” Glick said. “It’s been here for decades. We’re just the lucky folks who get to unleash the power of soccer that’s already been here.”

Before praising a passion for the game in the city that has led to over 20,000 season-ticket deposits, Glick recounted his successes in promoting the women’s game while working in England with City Football Group, and related his experiences working with players including Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and Kevin De Bruyne.

Glick noted that his favorite player, however, was a less revered and technically gifted defender named Shaun Barker, whom he worked with at Derby County.

Barker showed the tenacity to earn a professional career, despite the doubts of his youth coaches, and became Derby captain. However, a serious injury took him out of the game for around four-and-a-half years. Despite the significant adversity, Barker showed the discipline and determination to play once again.

“He was not the kid coming up that everyone expected would make it as a pro,” Glick said. “But he did. He played 350 games as a pro and captained two teams. And he battled his way back after his injury. He was a warrior.”

Barker’s triumph was one of many inspiring stories heard by the 300-strong crowd at the Gala, the most stirring of which belonged to the winner of the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Liam Flynn was six years old when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2018, but bravely battled through chemotherapy and used soccer as part of his physical therapy recovery. He made it back onto the field last fall.

Also honored were the youth players of Independence High School, who earned the Team Community Award for their impressive work in East Charlotte. They were commended for volunteering to teach younger children soccer through local charity initiatives, helping with meals in the community and investing their efforts in neighborhoods that do not necessarily have access to structured teams and leagues.