BALIS DUNLAP and JO JO HUNTER: WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?
By Harold Bell
In September 2011, I was pulling into the parking lot of JB Jenkins Funeral Home in Landover, MD, for the wake of Charles “Tommy” Branch Jr., playing on my car radio was the Earth, Wind and Fire classic ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone? : A long time passing, when will we ever learn?’
The song and words made me reflect on the early deaths of Tommy and Lionel Harris two young men associated with Kids In Trouble and Inside Sports. Their early demise left me asking the question, how and why?
In too many cases in Washington, DC they have died or are in jail!
The student/athletes who came through Kids In Trouble and Inside Sports are on a long list and short time in passing!
Charles Branch, Jr. was 51 years old the oldest son of Carolyn and Charles Branch, Sr. The father was a football teammate of mine at Spingarn High School in DC. Charles Jr., was known as “Big Tom” to family and friends. In 1978 he was a first team All-Met basketball and football player for DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, MD.
“Big Tom” played for Morgan Wooten the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach. He was the anchor for Coach Wooten’s first undefeated basketball team in 1978 (28-0).
He was also the best athlete in the family of the four boys I called him the gentle giant, but the hero and role model in this family never caught a touchdown pass, hit a walk-off home run, or dunked a basketball, the Shero’s name is Carolyn Branch.
When “Big Tom” had to drop out of college because of ill health his mother picked up the ball and ran with it for him. For the next three decades as a single mom she took care of her “First” and encouraged the other three to be all that they could be!
Carolyn (Adrian Branch NBA) even found time to give back to the community. She worked with and supported Kids In Trouble, Inc and Inside Sports and whom ever else needed a helping hand. She took it to the next level by encouraging her friends, Currie Lowe (Sidney Lowe NBA), Rita Bailey (Thurl Bailey NBA), and Grace Paige (Tony Paige NFL) to join the KIT Team and reach back to help others! When hard times hit me she was there encouraging and trying to help me. I was honored when I was able to say thank you in 2006 by presenting her with a Kids In Trouble, Inc Life Time Achievement Award (Currie, Grace and Rita were also honored). Thank you my sister!
I attended Tommy’s wake on Thursday and attended Lionel Harris’ wake the next day. Lionel was also a first team All-Met basketball player at Cardozo High School in 1969-70.
I first met Lionel in 1968 when I became the assistant coach (wide receivers) for the Cardozo football team as a favor to my teammate, head coach, Bob Headen. Bob and I played against each other in high school and college and became teammates on the Virginia Sailors (a minor league team for the NFL Washington Redskins). Bob talked a half-dozen other Sailor teammates into volunteering their services. Cardozo football and basketball teams were top contenders in the West in the late 60s.
The classy Harold Dean was the head basketball coach during that era and Lionel Harris and Big Michael Jackson were the glue that held the “Clerks” together. They went into every game thinking that they could win and most times they did.
Lionel’s friend and classmate Earl Boone made sure his home going did not go unnoticed. During the wake he read letters from former DC Public Schools student/athlete (Dunbar) DC Mayor Vincent Gray and a basketball player wanna-be, President Barack Obama. We all should be so lucky to have the two leaders of the Nation’s Capitol say “Great Game!”
Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC. Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities. The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc. To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site H. B. Sports Legends.com.