Tuskegee Super Fan Back On Sideline
Jonathan Horn, affectionately dubbed the “Super Fan” by spectators of Tuskegee athletics, was told two years ago that he could no longer cheer for his favorite sports teams from the sideline on the historic Tuskegee campus, nor would he be allowed to travel with the football team on out of town trips.
Since 1989, Horn’s familiar physique has sauntered, danced and pranced its way up and down the sideline at baseball, basketball and especially football games at Tuskegee University.
The news devastated the 47 year old, educationally challenged “Super Fan.” He has not been to any sporting event on the Tuskegee University campus since being banned from the sideline by the Director of Athletics.
Horn was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on June 25, 1969. As a kid growing up in East Alabama, he wanted to participate in sports. He liked football and basketball. He was shy and thought that the other kids would not accept him. His fear of rejection kept him on the sideline, but in high school he developed a way to endear himself to the student body at Tuskegee Institute High School.
He led the cheers in the stands to the joy and delight of his classmates. On Saturday afternoons in the fall, he would walk onto the Tuskegee University campus and down the pathway leading to Alumni Bowl, where he would root for the men in their crimson and gold uniforms. On most of those Saturday afternoons, the Tuskegee Golden Tigers would pound out a victory against their opponent.
In 1988, Horn completed his time in high school. Many of his classmates went off to college. Some of them enrolled into Tuskegee University. All he had ever wanted to be as he grew into manhood was a Tuskegee University Golden Tiger. But Horn, probably fearing that same sense of rejection that prevented him from trying out for his high school football team, did not apply for admission into Tuskegee University.
Instead, he walked down to 204 West Lee Street into Calhoun Foods, a local grocery store. Calhoun Foods had been a mainstay in the Tuskegee community since 1986, two years after its owner, Greg Calhoun became the first African American to own a grocery store chain in the south. At one time, Calhoun owned 16 grocery stores in Montgomery, Alabama alone. He employed several hundred people and for many years was the only grocery outlet in Tuskegee.
Calhoun started his career as a bag boy. He saw something good about Horn and hired him to serve the store in the position of a bag boy. Horn performed his duties daily with a smile. He endeared himself to the shoppers at Calhoun. He was respected for the job that he did, his self-esteem soared and on Saturdays in the fall when he could get the time off, he would go over to the campus at the local university and cheer the Golden Tigers on to victory.
Horn created a special victory dance each time the Golden Tigers scored a touchdown. He would get in the quarterback crouch, then he would pretend to hand the ball off to the running back who scored and swivel his hips in weird gyrations to the rhythm of the Crimson Piper Band.
The crowd loved it. They went “crazily mad” underneath the infamous “Shed” in the student body section at Alumni Bowl. The legend of the “Super Fan” was born.
In 1989, Horn’s cheering antics under the “Shed” came to the attention of Tuskegee University’s head football coach, James Martin. He invited Horn to be his guest down on the sideline during home games. One day the Tuskegee Band struck up the tune, “Ball and parley,” the “Super Fan” took it from there.
The Bowl shook, rocked and rolled wildly. It was a good time to be a fan of Tuskegee football as Coach Martin had convinced Tuskegee native Maurice Heard to leave Southern Mississippi where he was projected to star at quarterback ahead of Bret Farve, and teamed him with Chris Holder, a wide receiver from Mobile, Alabama. The twosome found the end zone multiple times during a four quarter football game. The “Super Fan” led the cheer on each touchdown. His importance to the football game grew.
When the Golden Tigers went on the road, the coaches usually tried to find a seat on the bus for their “Super Fan.” If the football team bus was filled to capacity, a seat was found for him on the band bus. If there was no room for him on either bus, the “Super Fan” would catch a ride with Frank H. Lee, the P. A. announcer at that time for Tuskegee football games. A special bond developed between Lee and Horn. Today, Horn affectionately calls, Lee, “Daddy” and Lee’s two sons, “Brother.”
In the early days of the “Super Fan” tenure on the TU sideline, this writer was privileged to receive a sideline pass from Coach Martin for each of the school’s home games. Horn was on the sideline back then. He got along with the players. You could tell that they drew off his energy and played at a high level.
Soon Horn could be seen in the dugout at James Washington Field cheering the Golden Tigers baseball team to victory. From 1989-1992 the baseball team won three consecutive SIAC Championships. Also, he became a mainstay court side in the Daniel “Chappie” James Center where the basketball team played its games.
Being on the sideline at Tuskegee games became his life, his passion and his joy. It defined him to himself in ways that no other activity in his life could. He was doing his part to help make the people around him successful and that made Horn happy.
For a quarter of a century, Horn’s life revolved around TU athletics. During football season, he was fitted with a uniform worn by the medical staff. He was put in charge of dispensing water to the players during time-out breaks. In 2014, a dispute arose between Horn and a member of the training staff. Horn was banned from the TU sideline. He was stunned, hurt in ways that he can not explain today.
According to Tuskegee City Councilman, Christopher Lee, “The shine went out of his eyes. That smile of his lost some of its gleam. Sometimes he would ask me if I could help him get back on the sideline. It hurt me because I could not help get him back to being the person that made other people happy – that made him happy.”
“During football season the past two years, I receive several calls on Saturdays from “Super Fan” asking me for updates on the score,” said Tuskegee University alumnus Frank H. Lee.
“I’ve not been to a game up there since they banned “Super Fan” from the sidelines. I have my sources who keep me abreast of the score and I would pass that information on to him,” the elder Lee added.
At least Horn still had his job at Calhoun Foods. It was the only place he had worked in his life. Calhoun’s customers loved Horn as much as the TU fans did.
“His customer service went beyond the call of duty. Everybody loved him who came into Calhoun Foods. He had a big smile and was very helpful,” Chris Lee said.
Losing his sense of purpose on the TU sports sideline was a big blow to his self-esteem, which was compounded last year when Greg Calhoun sold the grocery store where Horn had worked for the last 27 years.
Barred from the sidelines at Tuskegee University and having the doors closed on the only job he had ever held in his life would have been enough to send anyone over the edge. But not Horn. He kept smiling, although not as big as when he was on top of the world at a Tuskegee football game or bagging groceries for a shopper at Calhoun’s, but nevertheless, he kept smiling with a bit of joy in his heart and a desire to bring joy to other people.
He lives alone in the E. D. Nixon Apartments in Tuskegee, which are named after the founder of the Montgomery Civic Association that organized the 1954 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Mr. Nixon stepped down as head of the organization to allow Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the group during the boycott.
“Not being on the sideline at Tuskegee football games mean a whole lot to me. I liked being around the team, the fans – it feels like being around family,” Horn said.
Horn does not like to talk about his ban from the Tuskegee sideline. He has no animosity against anyone at Tuskegee.
“It hurt me a little bit, but I stay happy,” he said.
A few months ago, Horn picked up an odd job sweeping hair from the floor of the City Red Barber Shop.
“It’s not like a real job. He just gives me a little something to help me out,” Horn said.
In January of this year, Bibs and Blanket International, a business organization which seeks to honor people impacting the lives of the Tuskegee community, honored Horn for his outstanding service in uplifting residents of Tuskegee.
Horn was nominated for this award by Councilman Lee, the 27 year-old second term Tuskegee council member and oldest son of Frank H. Lee. Lee said he has watched the impact that Horn has had on both the Tuskegee community and the university community for much of his life. As a youngster, Lee would hitch a ride to out of town football games with his dad. This allowed him to get to know Horn and to observe from a distance, the influence Horn had on the people he encountered.
“This award was well over due. When I called to tell him about the award he was very happy. I could tell that it lifted his spirits,” Lee said.
“The award made me feel good. It made me feel blessed,” Horn said.
When news of The Bibs and Blanket International honor reached the Tuskegee community, Horn received an outpouring of gratitude.
” I remember him supporting at my TU baseball games back in 1994-98. He has been supporting Tuskegee athletics for a long time,” said Kenneth S. Fitts.
Gabe Smith said, “Other than winning all the time, “Super Fan” was always my favorite part of Tuskegee football.”
“An amazing individual, Congrats,” said Dekrazy1 on a Facebook post acknowledging Horn’s award.
While Smoothngoove added, “Super Fan is my Boi. He would give his all to make someone else smile.”
The Bibs and Blanket International award was not the only good news for Horn. During a recent visit to City Red Barber Shop to get a hair cut, Dr. Brian Johnson, President of Tuskegee University, asked Horn to meet with Johnson outside the hearing of the City Red patrons. According to Horn, Johnson told him that he is welcomed on the sideline for the 2017 football season.
“That made me feel real good,” Horn said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round, editor of Easier to Obtain than to Maintain: The Globalization of Civil Rights by Charles Steele, Jr.; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.