How A Charlotte Supporter Group Is Keeping A Founder’s Memory Alive
Because of Brenton
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This is a story about tragedy. There’s no getting around it.
The simple fact of a life being taken in the most heartbreaking way means that tragedy has to sit at the heart of things.
But tragedy won’t define this story. It can’t. Because Brenton McCaskill was so much more than how his life ended, and the members of the supporter group that he helped found are making sure that his true personality and spirit are not forgotten.
Plus, they know it would annoy him.
“Brenton had a real sick sense of humor,” said Matt Burris the communications director and one of the co-founders of Southbound & Crown, a Charlotte FC supporters group.
“He would find it hilarious that I’m still talking to you about this. He would be like, ‘Shut up about it already,’” said Burris. “I think it would piss him off. So we’re gonna keep doing it.”
McCaskill, Burris and Michael Gallemore, the group’s third co-founder met through South Carolina Spurs, an official Tottenham Hotspur supporters group. The trio bonded over Spurs and would often meet for watch parties in the York County area.
“Some weeks it was just the three of us watching, sometimes it was 20 people. But we had a lot of fun getting to know each other that way,” said Burris.
As rumors started to swirl about an MLS club coming to Charlotte, the trio began discussing plans for a potential supporter group for the club.
“It was very much a casual, three morons having beers and saying ‘Let’s start a group,’ type of thing,” said Burris.
When the club became official and unveiled its name and logo in the summer of 2020, the group’s identity snapped into focus as well, going with Southbound & Crown, a nod to the popular HBO show Eastbound and Down, as well as the group’s roots in the Palmetto State.
“We made a Twitter account that day, and set up an Instagram page and a Facebook, and we just ran with it,” said Burris.
The group established itself as an independent, somewhat renegade supporter group, thanks to McCaskill.
When the idea was kicked around to join the larger Mint City Collective as a South Carolina chapter, rather than remain independent, McCaskill gave what Burris calls a ‘typical Brenton response.’
“In true Brenton fashion, I can give you a direct quote, which you will probably have to censor if you use it. His direct quote was, ‘Oh, f**k, no, we’re doing our own thing’. So that was his personality,” he said.
“He was an independent guy, and his spirit is a part of what we do, and we want to do what’s best for supporters,” Burris said. “Our goal is always just to let people have a place where they can come and be a part of something. At the end of the day, we want to do what’s best for the team, and for everybody else, and if that means ruffling some feathers in the meantime, we can always blame that on Brenton at every opportunity, because he would think it’s hilarious.”
As plans for the group were moving along smoothly, the unthinkable happened.
On Monday, November 30th, 2020, McCaskill was shot and killed protecting his partner, Heidi Underhill, and her two children, during an early-morning home invasion.
In the months that followed, the people in McCaskill’s world were plunged into unimaginable grief, grasping for any way to stay connected to McCaskill and honor his life.
For his partner, Underhill, McCaskill’s loves of Spurs and Charlotte FC, became a powerful outlet.
“She’s really thrown herself into everything that Southbound & Crown does,” said Burris. “I just love watching every minute of that for her, because I think it helps her get through it, as much as you can get through a tragic event like that.”
As McCaskill’s soccer family mourned, they sought out a way to pull some good out of such darkness.
“In the aftermath of what happened, we didn’t really know what to do,” said Burris. “We were all grieving collectively, in shock, and trying to comfort Heidi. We wanted to do something with this collective grief, and all this energy that we had. We wanted to direct it to something positive, and somebody suggested a GoFundme.”
The fundraiser, called “Because of Brenton: The Hero Fund”, was soon flooded with donations from around the country, and the world. Tottenham promoted the cause, as did Men in Blazers, while Charlotte FC created opportunities for Southbound & Crown to share McCaskill’s story.
“We make it a point to talk about Brenton,” said Burris. “The fact that he lost his life in the manner that he did, valiantly defending his partner, Heidi, and her kids. Obviously what we’re doing is so many levels below that, but we want to keep that same energy and same spirit.”
The fund will provide scholarships to disadvantaged youth and low income families in York County to cover registration fees, equipment costs, and other associated costs for local sports leagues.
“Brenton had such a passion for kids and sports,” Burris said. “The goal was to turn a negative into a positive and to put our own spin on that, and not let the people that took Brenton from us have the final say in his life.”
Charlotte FC kicked off its inaugural season on the road in D.C. before coming home to a record-setting crowd in its home opener. Two weeks later, it notched its first win, a magical 3-1 victory over New England.
Though McCaskill will never get to attend a Charlotte FC match, Southbound & Crown make sure his memory is present.
“We honestly talk about him like he was right there, and he is as far as I’m concerned,” said Burris. “He’s a part of every time we get out the tailgate and put our tents up, and put that Southbound & Crown flag up on a flagpole. You can’t help but think about him. I think he would have at least been detained by a police officer twice by now just for being too rowdy. But then he would give him a hug and everything would be fine.”
As the MLS season got underway in earnest, the GoFundMe, which had been dormant for almost a year, suddenly started receiving donations again, and thanks to a push from Southbound & Crown’s fellow Charlotte SGs, it crept past its $10,000 goal.
It was a bittersweet moment.
“When those numbers started picking up again, and we hit the $10,000 number, it just reminded us of why we’re doing what we’re doing, other than just rooting for Charlotte,” said Burris. “I think we’ve all had so much fun the last month, that when we saw the GoFundMe start lighting up again, we had a little moment of ‘You know what, this is kind of bulls**t. Brenton should be here with us.”
But McCaskill’s memory continues to keep Burris and the rest of Southbound & Crown going.
“Look at all these people that get it,” he said. “They’re helping us, and they’re here for us and for the group and for Brenton’s family and Heidi. You know, damn it, we’re still around. We made it, we’re here, and we’re gonna keep moving forward. We’re gonna keep finding new ways to help people, and on game days we’re gonna find new ways to piss off the opposing team.”