Sunshine Bowl XIII staged on MLK weekend in Miami Gardens
Jesse Wiggins and his daughter, Kim Wiggins, who became the first female assistant coach in Semi Pro football history after Jesse and his wife, Mercedes, founded the Miami Knights.
By Derek Joy
There they were, a total of 14 teams from all across America competing for a Semi-Pro football National Championship on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend in Miami Gardens.
The Sunshine Bowl XIII, sponsored by Sunshine Bowl’s Sports Entertainment, featured contests on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Complex. Teams competed in seven different classifications.
Three of the 14 were from South Florida, from Riviera Beach to Key West. Only two of the five claimed a National Championship.
The Miami Magic City Bulls, who defeated the Troy (New York) Fighting Irish, 50-17, to claim AFNT 3A title, and the South Florida Vikings shut out the Georgia Firebirds, 51-0, to win the MLK Bowl title; and the Tri City (Fort Lauderdale) Soldiers edged the Cincinnati (Ohio) Hawks, 43-40, to secure the AFNT 4A title.
“This one was better than all the other 12 because it’s the first time all the teams showed up,” said Jesse Wiggins, who, with his wife, Mercedes Wig-gins, founded the Sunshine Bowl games. “All 14 teams showed up.”
The Bridgeport (Conn.) Ravens defeated the Lancaster (Penn.) Sabers 31-0, for the North South Bowl title; in the SBSS Championship game, the Charlotte (N.C.) beat the Key West Sun Devils, 20-12; and Southern Ohio Buckeyes defeated the West Texas Scorpions, 50-12, to win the 2A title; the Southern Michigan Timber Wolves stopped the South Florida 49’ers (Fort Lauder-dale), 17-14, in winning the AFNT 3A title.
“We started the South Florida Knights after Buck Town and the other semi pro teams in Miami folded,” said Mercedes Wiggins. “The tryouts were held at the Miami Stadium (which has since been demolished) and 250 people came out.
“Way back then (middle 1980’s) there were many pro-grams for young men. Our goal was to help young men get an education. So we decided to start a team and bring teams from all over the country to compete.
The Wiggins left their native Washington, D.C., and moved to Miami. They opened All The Right Stuff (a book store/novelty shop) on the first floor Miami Dade County Government Center in Downtown Miami.
Among the many youths that have benefited from the program is Kendall James, who earned a football scholarship to Carson Newman University and was on the Buffalo Bills practice squad, and is now a youth counselor.
As the games of Saturday went, Sharon Frazier, a Youth Violence Prevention Exhibitor for the City of Miami Gardens, operated a stand for the North Dade Youth and Family Coalition.
“We do wrap around services for at risk families,” said Frazier. “We concentrate on families who are at risk of abuse, neglect and maltreatment. We’re soliciting prospective clients whose children are at risk of abuse, neglect and maltreatment. We also have a program called Celebrity Dads, who meet twice weekly to discuss issues of parenting and fatherhood.”
While the games were played and the various other activities went on with resounding approval of participants and those in attendance, Mercedes Wig-gins reflected on the historical progress since the Rev. Dr. Martin King, Jr., delivered his famed “I Have A Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.
“Oh, my God, yes,” Wiggins recalled. “He could have told us to jump from a building and we would have done it. It was so inspiring. I hung onto his every word.
“I look at things now and the way they were then. The closest thing to it is when President Barack Obama was elected the first time. All those people there were not just Black. There were people of all races,” said Wiggins, who looked over the result of the XIII Sunshine Bowls competition as a smashing success.