Photo courtesy of Meghan Gianni-Bradford
Meghan Gianni-Bradford is home after being stuck in Honduras
by Jim McGrath, recruit757
For Smithfield resident Meghan Gianni-Bradford, the opportunities presented to her by the AFE Team USA All-Stars have been too good to pass up. The organization, which promotes football through community service and by sending men’s and women’s American teams to play games and tournaments in other countries, had agreed to play in the American Women’s Bowl in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and offered Gianni-Bradford, an up and coming tight end and receiver, a chance to play at the international level.
The Newport News Shipbuilding employee took great pride in making the trip. She had played with local teams, but joined the AFE squad last July, and was part of the team that played against a squad from Mexico in Cancun last December. Still, any opportunity to join her new team and represent her country was an honor, and as she told recruit757 on Saturday, “It was extremely selective to get on the national team.”
The AFE All-Stars team arrived early, on March 11, and spent some time practicing for the games, as well as volunteering their collective time for various forms of service in the Tegucigalpa region. The first two days of the tournament went well as the US squad won its first three games, against Mexico, Costa Rica, and host Honduras,. However, on the third day, and with news of the Coronavirus making its way to the Western Hemisphere and points south, the decision was made to suspend the tournament before its conclusion.
However, the evening before the team was to head to the airport to fly home, Honduran officials made a second decision – this one to close its country’s borders for at least seven days, and shut off all forms of travel, essentially stranding the American team at their hotel without enough food, money, and in some cases, medicine, to last the duration of the suddenly extended visit.
Said Linda Gianni, Meghan’s mother (both of her parents made the trip), who was with the contingent of 55 players, coaches and staff in Honduras, “We learned the night before from social media and our Honduras team representative that the borders were being closed in five hours.” Gianni added that even days later, the team had received no notifications from the State Department regarding the border closing, even though they had signed up for the State Department’s notifications for Honduras through their STEP program.
There was another, more pressing problem, that being the availability of food and supplies for the group of 55. They were left in a hotel with only a handful of other patrons, according to Sandy Glossenger, operations manager for American Football Events, and wife of head coach Dale Glossenger. The hotel offered limited types of food, which it had recently cut further in an effort to conserve. Their stay and meals were discounted, though they were still expected to pay, she said.
“It gets to be a scary situation because we don’t know how many days it will last,” Dale Glossenger told the Chicago Tribune.
The hotel did set up a room for them to watch movies together, and one of the players, a fitness trainer by day, led them through workouts.
In a social media post, Linda further explained the arrangements.
“The AFE Team USA All-Stars negotiated the (hotel) rates and food. Room service (was) required because the hotel closed the restaurant and only allowed “take out”, just like in the US. The AFE negotiated food options for us to choose from in order to keep the food expense reasonable for the team. We had to work out a schedule with the hotel so that they could cook all the meals for the team and deliver them hot to each room. We basically ordered ahead of time from a small list of food options, like in a hospital, and handed in our slip by a set time for the next meal. John (Meghan’s father), Meghan, and I missed lunch one day because we were so busy making phone calls to legislators and news organizations that we forgot to order our food.” She noted that the team shared their food with the police guarding the team outside the hotel, as they didn’t have time or a chance to get their own.
With the possibility of an extra-long stay shadowing the non-profit team, they turned to the resources at hand to explain their situation, and eventually receive permission to return home. A call for donations was posted on the team web site (afeteamusa.com), and the push was made to alert the US Embassy in Honduras, as well as the American media.
Thanks to the efforts of local and national lawmakers, the process started to commence. Yet, it took six more days to finish the job.
As assistant coach Billy Avalos told the Las Cruces Sun News, “(On Day 9), we settled in to bed and an AFE USA Football message came in reading “Lobby now – bring your passports,” An embassy spokesperson was there and said, good you passed (we were all there in 10 minutes) Good news and bad news – I will check all passports and thank the President. You are all coming home tomorrow.”
The Gianni’s felt that there was one other person deserving of special recognition for helping to secure the two Air Force C-130 cargo planes that delivered 25, and then 30 members of the group to Joint Base Charleston (SC), where they arrived early Sunday morning.
In a separate Facebook post from Saturday afternoon, Meghan wrote, “Emily Brewer (VA Delegate – 64th District) is one of the main reasons that all 55 members of the Women’s USA football team were able to get airlifted by the US Air Force, via two military planes, from the Air Force base in Honduras to an Air Force base in South Carolina. Emily worked tirelessly with every local, state, and federal government resource she could to push to ensure we all got home safe. Emily didn’t just fight to bring me home as someone who lives in her district, to bring the three Virginia residents’ home from her state, she fought to bring all 55 fellow Americans back to the United States safely and quickly. That itself shows the kind of beyond outstanding individual she is.”
Donations are still needed, as the team landed in South Carolina, but some still need help getting to one of the 23 states represented by the AFE team. In the Gianni’s case, they rented a car and drove the rest of the way to Isle of Wight County.
As for the AFE Women’s All-Stars, they are scheduled to travel to Spain this December to play against their national team. At this time, there are no plans to cancel or postpone the trip. Said Meghan, “At the moment Honduras doesn’t affect Spain at all. That’s all based on the coronavirus. So as of right now we are still playing in December.”
But as she arrived home on Saturday, one line summed up her Gianni-Bradford’s relief.
“Feels good to be back on US soil!”
– Jim McGrath