BLOOMINGTON — Nargis and Omar Khokhar fondly recall the first time they attended a Bloomington Edge indoor football game, about three years ago when they brought daughters Zara and Aliyah to U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
“We were here and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got front-row tickets. This is going to be so much fun.’ I’m sitting there with the kids and a ball comes flying right at us and almost hit us,” said Nargis Khokhar, giggling through her memory.
“I got so scared and the next thing you know, I’m running all the way up to the top of the (section) and he’s laughing his head off.”
“It barely grazed Aliyah, who I think was eight or nine months old,” Omar Khokhar interjected pleasantly. “(Nargis) takes Aliyah and scurries up Section 119, while I’m sitting there saying, ‘Umm, hey. I just paid for these.’”
Omar Khokhar admits to getting “bitten” immediately by the Edge experience. So when the franchise needed new ownership near the end of last season, the 37-year-old Bloomington physician and his 35-year-old attorney spouse saw plenty of potential and could not resist the opportunity.
“When we took over last summer, as a doctor and an attorney we’ve never run a sports team before,” he said. “So it was very important for us to assess: what do we know, what don’t we know and then make decisions accordingly.
“There’s tremendous freedom in acknowledging what we don’t know, and looking out and recruiting really excellent front office personnel. We have an approach to this team and to this season that I don’t think has happened (here) before.”
Each of the Khokhars' parents immigrated here from Pakistan. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Omar Khokhar grew up in Pekin, attended Peoria Richwoods High School and earned his medical degree in Pakistan after returning there when his father opened a hospital.
A New Jersey native, Nargis met Omar in Washington, D.C., while she was in law school at American University and he was doing research at Georgetown. They returned to Central Illinois after getting married in 2005 and have fallen in love with the Bloomington-Normal area since moving here three years ago.
Now the couple hopes to use the Edge as a vehicle for reciprocating that love and benefitting the community.
“The way we stumbled into the team, we had our own different yearnings of what attracted us to this possibility,” said Nargis, a former Tazewell County prosecutor who still runs a general practice law office and also teaches comparative government classes at Eureka College.
“I know Omar’s into the sports part and I am a sports fan, but for me it was more community-building. I wanted to get involved with something that could develop as a key institution in the community to implement my life vision and values.”
“We recognize the tremendous platform we have,” added Omar, a gastroenterologist with OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. “I’ll be candid, I didn’t realize just how much power and platform there is with this in terms of influencing kids, underprivileged kids, preschoolers. We have the ability to positively influence and create a ripple effect through the community.”
Now in its 11th season, the Bloomington franchise has played in five different leagues under six sets of owners. But the Khokhars say they’re committed to establishing stability and making the Edge a successful venture.
“We have a three-year strategic plan in terms of, how can we get a championship to Bloomington? How can we get others to see and appreciate what we see on a daily basis?,” said Nargis. “You know, Year One is always tough; it’s full of challenges and it’s a learning process all over. But that’s our three-year plan and we’re going to work steadily to achieve that.”
“It’s not just the on-field product — that is the most important thing — but it’s the experience,” said Omar. "If you have a great game experience, that’s what you’re going to remember.
“When you think 'Chiefs' or you think ‘Rivermen,’ you think Peoria. That’s what we want the Edge to be for Bloomington.”