TAMPA, Fla. – As Carrie Parker-Warren looked out into the sea of orange and green in the stands and on the field at Raymond James Stadium Saturday evening, more than 50 years of memories began to rush through her mind.
“We’d [jump] up in the air with these long wool skirts and these hot wool sweaters, with the big ‘F’ on them,” she recalled of her days as a cheerleader for Florida A&M University nearly 60 years ago.
The 76-year-old Florida A&M University alumna was in town to see her beloved Rattlers take on Tennessee State University in the newly-established Tampa Classic, a fresh take on an old tradition that died 20 years ago.
“I love it here in Tampa,” she said. “We always had big crowds, lots of fashion.
"Lots of flair about it.”
However, those crowds and that flair weren’t enough to keep the old Florida Classic between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University in the town.
“They didn’t show any appreciation,” Parker-Warren said of how many fans felt various businesses in the Tampa Bay-area treated them.
Some fans felt there was subtle discrimination from hotels that perhaps did not want them to stay, and from a local mall near the old Tampa Stadium that would close early when they were in town.
So after the 1996 game, organizers made the decision to leave Tampa and move the annual HBCU showdown to Orlando.
“Orlando showed, ‘Hey, we like your business. We’ll show appreciation for your business,'” said Parker-Warren. “There was more reception there.”
Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson he wished the game never had to be moved, and added it’s too early to tell if the Tampa Classic will return for another year. However, he said Mayor Buckhorn, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the Hillsborough County Commission made fans feel welcome.
Parker-Warren and several of her classmates and cheer team members said they’ve forgiven the past, are ready to move on, and would love to see the old Florida Classic return to its roots.
Yet, they made it clear things would be different this time around.
“Now, it’s 2017, we’re not putting up with no crap,” said Parker-Warren. “It’s like when we got off of the [slave] ship. It took us 200 years or more to decide that we’re worth something and that black is beautiful, and our money spends just like their money spends.”
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