South Florida Travel Squad in Charlotte. N.C.
By Sylvester “Nunnie” Robinson
Some of the greatest ideas or concepts are often unintentional and serendipitous in nature. The latter certainly applies to the South Florida Travel Squad (SFTS), an eclectic group of fanatically, passionate African American football enthusiasts whose evolution has been understatedly extraordinary.
By mere chance, Brother Lennox George, John Wimberly, Gary Torrence and Clay-ton Jenkins stopped by Brother Harry Harrell’s house in Melrose during the mid-80s. Harry, who had recently moved into his new home with wife Janice and children, was watching a televised pro game. He gladly welcomed the erstwhile intruders into his home, sharing the chips, peanuts and other available assorted snacks.
After having such a great time, they decided to continue at another venue, Lennox’ home the following week. Eventually the numbers grew too large for homes so it was moved to the larger and more conducive fraternity house to the delight of several wives. To avoid family conflicts on Sunday, NFL Monday Night football (MNF) became the appointed destination.
The meals became much more elaborate as participation increased. Harry Harrell, co-owner of Tom Jenkins Barbecue, began assigning two hosts, who would be responsible for all refreshments for each Monday night. Early on it was determined that the group, at this time numbering around 10 members, would embark on a road trip to an NFL game, a feasible and desirable extension of MNF.
Since most members were either Dolphin or Cowboy fans, which remain true today, the logical choice was a game at Texas Stadium between Dallas and Miami in 1985.
The original goal was to attend a game in every NFL city outside the state of Florida. Since that auspicious beginning, the SFTS has attended games in Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Diego, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta and several other NFL cities. This year marks the 29th year of MNF.
These excursions have morphed into must do/attend affairs because the components have become so significant and compelling. They include dinner at a minority owned establishment, stadium tour, social outing, cultural tour and the penultimate tailgate prior to game, all leading up to the GAME.
The detailed coordination of these trips was placed in the capable hands of Harry “Eaze” Harrell, dubbed by SFTS members “The Commissioner”.
It is an awesome task that he performs with great aplomb and acuity. His tasks are made less demanding because of the support he receives not only from the travel squad but also from brother-in-law Rex Warner and best friend Anthony Tynes.
Responsibilities include but aren’t limited to the following: travel itinerary, game tickets, hotel accommodations, travel gear, hospitality, pairing room-mates, payment schedule and collecting funds. It is a monumental task that he relishes, viewing it as a labor of love. If he weren’t so successful in the food service industry, he would have been a great travel agent. Harry states thusly, “These are not Omega Psi Phi road trips, though many members are Omega men.”
Other fraternities, particularly Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha, are represented along with members of the Masonic order.
The relationships of members are uniquely intertwined: father/son – such as our bus driver Lee Brown and his son Brenon and Melvin Davis and Mel, Jr.; brothers John, Clifford and Floyd Wimberly; and best friends James Roscoe and George DeVaughn. It is a football trip for football fans.
It is a rare occasion when a first time attendee or Rookie, which carries certain obligations, doesn’t become a permanent participant.
The message to all is simple – pace yourself; it is a marathon, not a sprint and be on time. Members of the squad cover the gambit: longshoremen, accountants, educators, architects, computer techs and attorneys.
I think it is safe to say we are all proud of the fact, especially the Commissioner, that in all of these 29 years, we have never had an incident that would cast aspersions on our church affiliations, communities, families or race.
Our most recent trip, 2014, took us to Charlotte, N.C. where we saw the Charlotte Panthers play the Chicago Bears.
Highlights of the trip still resonate a month later.
The first was the cultural affair where all members visited the Latibah Collard Green Museum in Charlotte, chronicling the Black American experience from Africa to America through the Civil Rights movement and beyond. I certainly recommend anyone visiting Charlotte to make the Latibah Museum a must see attraction.
Secondly, the trip occurred during Breast Cancer Awareness Month so naturally the Commissioner, always creative and innovative, presented each member (55 in total) with a pink jersey, worn to the game to show our support for breast cancer victims and survivors. And then there was Larry Barnswell, longtime teacher and coach at Dillard High, who gathered several of his former students/athletes, including accountant Antonio Brihm, educator John Williams and longshoreman James Roscoe, for a timeless and priceless photo op.
The order of or selection of the games are based on seniority and availability. A venue like Green Bay for example is virtually out of the question. The Dolphins are up next but it won’t be in Miami.
Be on the lookout for a classy group or large contingent of football loving African American men in a stadium near you!