Team travel after Sept. 11 not easy

The day started simply enough.

Barely two days into her fall recruiting travels, Jen Schneider boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Ft. Lauderdale to head back to Tampa, where she coordinates recruiting for the USF women’s basketball team.

Unbeknownst to Schneider at the time, her flight was one of the last to land at Tampa International Airport on the morning of Sept. 11. The routine to which she and most other Division I athletic teams had become so accustomed was about to change permanently. Long lines and a myriad of security checkpoints soon became commonplace for USF student-athletes and coaches, who travel extensively by air.

And while most of the USF athletic teams had the rest of the week off after Sept. 11, Schneider and USF coach Jose Fernandez had to resume their recruiting duties.

“We actually had to get back on flights within a week,” Schneider said. “That, to me, was much more difficult than two months later when we started to travel as a team.”

Schneider and Fernandez’ travels were no less strenuous at the start of the Bulls’ season in November. Their first stop? Boston. Origin of two of the ill-fated Sept. 11 jets.

“When we were traveling to Boston, we endured about a two-and-a-half-hour wait, so we had to get there much earlier …” Schneider said. “There were people there who got there two hours, three hours before but still didn’t make their flights. And that’s where you’re seeing not just weapons, but serious weapons, like big machine guns. That’s something that you see on CNN, overseas or something.”

The basketball team’s season only started in November, more than two months after the attacks, but the lone USF team to play the week of Sept. 11, the men’s soccer team, actually had to take the field at Stetson the very next day in Deland. Although the Bulls didn’t have to fly and won the match 3-1, the events that transpired 24 hours earlier were still fresh in their minds, said former coach John Hackworth.

“It was hard. Both teams actually kinda went through the motions, which turned out to be a good thing for us because we had more talent than Stetson,” Hackworth said.

The soccer team also had to spend a lot of time in the air after that, and Hackworth said that was hard to get used to at first.

“We’ve adjusted as a society and gotten used to some of the things, but for the first couple flights we were on, it was a whole new experience,” Hackworth said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

But the Bulls soon grew used to the security procedures and three-hour early arrivals.

“Now, with the way it’s set up, I feel really comfortable,” Schneider said. “It just depends on what airports you go into. Obviously, if you go up into the Northeast, it’s a lot tighter … it seems more normal to us now, and maybe it’s because we fly so often. So, we’ll be at the airport, and while other people are complaining about being searched, I roll my eyes because it happens to us so often.”

USF volleyball coach Nancy Mueller also said her team became comfortable with traveling shortly after the attacks.

“They want to play volleyball and go to school, and now you have this travesty … I think the kids were a little leery at first, but I think they got pretty comfortable after a little while,” Mueller said. “They took it all in stride and continued to focus on something else.”

One of Mueller’s players, setter Alessandra Domingos, said her initial fear of being observed more in airports because she is a foreigner never materialized. She said she has no problem flying saying, “I’d rather fly than ride a bus for two days,” but the anniversary of the attacks has caused her to consider what might be in store this year.

“I personally don’t fear flying all the time because we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Domingos, who is from Brazil. “You’ve got to keep (moving on) with your life and all that. But it makes you think about other stuff, you know: It’s a year after the attack; what’s going to happen; are they going to do it again; how much did we learn, and all that.”