by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND – Judging the Tropics success in their first ever year in the Premier Development League is easy. Six wins, third place, thousands of fans at the home opener.

By just about any measure, the inaugural outdoor season as been one to remember for a long time.

But just as important to Polk County’s newest pro sports franchises – not only the Lakeland outdoor team but its sister franchise, the Florida Tropics of the Major Arena Soccer League who will start their second season at the RP Funding Center this fall – is the connection they are making with the community off the pitch.

Majority owner Dr. Panos Iakovidis, who has lived in Polk County for more than two decades and is President and CEO of Bond Clinic, has infused the two franchises with a sense of pride and place. More than just the next goal, or the next game, Dr. Iakovidis is making sure the Tropics are becoming a conduit to making Polk County a better place to work and live.

“I think it’s an important step forward for our community, another step towards what our capabilities are,” he said. “We have a large number of individuals at games that enjoy soccer and take pride in the community. These two teams will be part of them.  And we’ll take great pride in who we are, where we live.  My hope is this will become a tool that will bring all of us together.”

For a year now, the team has been represented at dozens of communit, school and chamber events throughout Central and Western Florida, literally reaching out from Orlando to Tampa, most recently at the ManXpo at the RP Funding Center.

And, after each arena and outdoor match, players are available on the pitch to sign autographs for the hundreds of youngsters who regularly line up to meet their local sports heroes.

“I think the most important message we have is that we are here to be together. Soccer is just a venue for us, getting to know each other, supporting each other. Soccer may be exciting, it may be entertaining, but it’s just one small step for the community to come together,” Dr. Iakovidis added. “We have many, many difficult tasks that we have to solve, and none of us can solve them by ourselves, no matter how much power we have, how much money, all of us as a community have to come together to solve those problems. This is part of what my fortunes in life have brought me to.”