Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI GARDENS — Broderick Veal seemed like a shy and retreating 6-year-old as he leaned against his mother on Sunday at the February meeting of the Sunshine Slopers.
Don’t let Broderick’s quiet demeanor fool you. On New England’s snowy slopes, Broderick is a pint-sized powerhouse who is tough to keep up with. Just ask his parents, who also ski with the Sunshine Slopers, an African-American ski group based in South Florida
Broderick has advanced past the beginners’ level at Bunny Hill and now “flies down the mountain and jumps like he knows what he’s doing,” said his mother, Coryus Veal.
The kindergartener at Silver Palms Elementary in Pembroke Pines has been skiing with the Sunshine Slopers since age 3. He won a silver medal in the novice ski category at the National Brotherhood of Skiers’ Eastern Region Winterfest held at the Sugarbush Resort, in Warren, Vt., Jan. 26-29.
“Even his father couldn’t keep up with him,” said Lawanda Joseph, president of the Sunshine Slopers, as she presented Broderick with his medal on Sunday.
Broderick was one of four youths who got medals for their skiing and snowboarding skills at Sugarbush. His cousin, Bryan Douglas, 17, won silver in the intermediate snowboard category.
Bryan, a 12th-grader at Charles W. Flannigan High in Pembroke Pines, started snowboarding with the Sunshine Slopers when he was 13 at the invitation of Broderick’s mother, his aunt. At age 15, he completed his first “black diamond,” which is ski-slang for the most challenging, steepest and bumpiest terrains.
“It felt pretty good,” Bryan said about his award Sunday. “I felt like I accomplished something.”
Bryant and Broderick are just the latest black residents of sun-drenched South Florida who are winning fame in the unlikely sport of skiing on the snow through the Sunshine Slopers.
The group got its start in January 1989 when founder Stephen Thompson, who lives in Miami Gardens, was asked by friend Allen Jones if he would be interested in taking a ski trip.
Jones, a Pembroke Pines resident, had just seen a feature on BET about skiing that featured the National Brotherhood of Skiers and thought it would be a great idea to bring the program to South Florida.
But, inevitably, living in a region best known for Caribbean cultures and warm weather rather than snow posed some obstacles at first.
“People would say, ‘Skiing? Oh, you mean ‘waterskiing?’” Thompson said in an interview. He found himself telling them he meant skiing on top of a snow-covered mountain.
By the time the Sunshine Slopers held its first meeting at North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens in June 1989, the membership numbered 35. Of those, only two had ever skied, Thompson said.
“Seeing people see snow for the first time is amazing,” said Thompson, who had seen his fair share of snow living in Virginia and Kentucky as a youngster.
The Sunshine Slopers, which became the first African-American ski club in Florida, is a member of the predominantly black National Brotherhood of Skiers and the multiracial Florida Ski Council. Other ski clubs have since formed, including the Miami International Athletic Ski and Sports Club in 2005.
Today, the Sunshine Slopers boasts about 175 members of all ages, from young children, like Broderick, to more seasoned skiers in their late 60s from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.
Membership dues and fundraisers help pay for operating expenses. Individual members pay for their trips and get group discounts.
The Sunshine Slopers recently received an $800 grant from the National Brotherhood of Skiers Eastern Region for training and development of its youth. The group is using the grant to train its children and teen members at a training facility for skiers and snowboarders in West Palm Beach. The grant also helped fund the trip to Sugarbush for its young members like Broderick and Bryan.
During the past 23 years, the members have traveled across the U.S. and the globe to ski — from the rugged mountains of North Carolina and Vermont to the icy peaks of Spain and France.
Delores Flowers’ first international excursion with the Sunshine Slopers was a trip to Spain in the mid-1990s. She had skied often as a youth when her father, an Army service member, was stationed in Germany. But Flowers, now 63, wasn’t an avid skier when she joined the club.
During the outing to Spain, she said, “I stayed on Bunny Hill the whole time.”
Robbie Bell, also in her 60s, said she knows that feeling all too well. “I must be the Bunny mother because I cannot get off Bunny Hill,” said Bell, who became a Sunshine Sloper in the 1990s.
But skiing and traveling aren’t the club’s only activities. The Sunshine Slopers also hosts picnics, dinners and other social events that bond members. In fact, many of them admit they can’t ski much. The camaraderie is what keeps them together. “The friendships,” Bell said.
Bell will take her 9-year-old granddaughter, Makayla Bell, on her first ski trip to Beech, N.C., in March.
Makayla, a student at David Fairchild Elementary in Miami, says she has been excited about the trip ever since her grandmother told her about it a few weeks ago. She said she has seen how her grandmother has been able to travel the world with the Sunshine Slopers and she would love to do that someday, too.
Makayla, who has seen snow only on family trips to New York and Texas, said she doesn’t know what to expect when she puts on skis for the first time.
“If I fall, it’s snow so it won’t hurt,” she said. “I don’t want to embarrass myself but I know I probably will.”
Giving young children like Makayla and Broderick and teens like Bryan an opportunity to experience something different is one of the main reasons Thompson started the Sunshine Slopers, he said.
“I wanted to see a young African American on the Olympic ski team,” he said. “It looks like we’ve got some potentials here.”
IN A NUTSHELL
The Sunshine Slopers meets at 3 p.m. every third Sunday of the month in the Bird of Paradise room of the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Complex, 3000 N.W. 199th St., Miami Gardens. For membership information, email email@example.com
Photo: Courtesy of Sunshine Slopers
WINTER WONDERLAND: Members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, of which the South Florida-based Sunshine Slopers ski club is an affiliate, take to the snow during the Black Ski Summit in February 2011 at the Steamboat Ski & Resort at Steamboat, Colo.