Florida Memorial University Football Play their First Game in over Sixty Years

Florida Memorial is the only HBCU football team playing in 2020 amid Covid-19 pandemic

Florida Memorial quarterback Antoine Williams attempts a pass in the university's first game since 1958. Photo by Florida Memorial Athletic Department.

By Arthur Cribbs, Howard University News Service

By taking the field on Saturday, the Florida Memorial University Lions football team made history in their game against Keiser University. 

The 62-0 victory by Keiser, though, was not the biggest news for the school’s football program; neither was the fact that Florida Memorial is the only HBCU football team playing in 2020.

Saturday’s game marked the first time in over 60 years that the Lions played a football game. According to the Florida Memorial University’s athletic department, the university’s football program competed in the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Association, as well as the Southeastern Athletic Conference from 1929 to 1958. 

At the time of their last season, the university had been known as Florida Normal and Industrial Institute. 

After a 61-year hiatus without football, the university announced the return of the sport in May 2019. 

“It’s A New Day, and Florida Memorial University will become the Global University academically and athletically that others will want to mirror,” said the university’s athletic director, Ernest T. Jones, after the announcement.

They accepted the invitation to join the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference in October of that year. 

“Our Council of Presidents thoroughly reviewed FMU’s application and determined them to be a strong addition to our conference football membership,” said the Commissioner of the Mid-South Conference, Eric Ward, in October 2019. 

The football program began practice in the middle of August this year under head coach Timothy Harris. Harris most recently served as the head coach at Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami and previously worked at the University of Miami, Miami Northwestern, Miami Central and Miami Senior High School.

With the addition of football at Florida Memorial University, people both within and outside of the South Florida community acknowledged the impact of football at the historically black institution. 

Whitney Bronson, a recent alum of Hampton University and a current graduate-level student at the University of Georgia, visited the Florida Memorial campus in February and commented on the impact of the return of the football program. 

“It’s important to bring a major sport like that back to an HBCU because it can help bring revenue into the school which can then help fund scholarships and tools that can help students. Besides the money aspect, culturally football is a big staple for HBCUs when you include the band, the alumni and the camaraderie that comes with games,” said Bronson. “Reviving the team will hopefully help bring in and produce top-level talent and bring more exposure to the school.” 

Despite the defeat in their season debut, the return of football at Florida Memorial brought emotion to the members of the university’s community.

Dr. Marc Williams, a Global Scholar Practitioner at Florida Memorial, spoke with the team prior to the game and although he expressed mixed feelings about the team playing because of COVID-19, he acknowledged the importance of the return of football at the university. 

“Based on the circumstances that led to Florida Memorial to the removal of football, which was in part because of the Klan, who ran us out of the city, bringing back the sports after 61 years is powerful,” he said.