George Tinsley Sr.

George Tinsley Sr.

Abandoned by his mother and left with an elderly and handicapped babysitter who was unable to read or write in the Louisville area of Kentucky’s Smoketown neighborhood, most would have written off then seven-month-old George Tinsley.

Tinsley’s story is more than just rags-to-riches. Blessed with athletic talent but raised with good people skills and street smarts so as to acknowledge his own mistakes along the way, Tinsley would go from athletics to business, ultimately contributing to Polk County on and off the playing field, coaching youth sports, senior basketball competitions, and supporting senior softball.

But he’s never forgotten those who helped him along the way.

Like momma, the woman who cared for him like her own. When she passed, George, then 13, was taken
in by momma’s birth son and wife.

While the Tinsleys gave him a place to live and family, it was his seventh-grade teacher, Gaye Howell, who taught him self-assurance through a job at school as an audio-visual specialist that motivated him to be a good student with high self-esteem.

Stretching out to six-foot-five inches tall, sports – particularly basketball – became his passion. He
earned a scholarship to Kentucky Wesleyan College (KWC). While there, the college would become an NCAA
Division II powerhouse, winning three championships in four years. It wasn’t a coincidence that the starting freshman forward was none other than Tinsley.

“But academically, I wasn’t a very good student,” said Tinsley. “I joined a Jewish fraternity – they
didn’t have a fraternity for blacks on our campus – and my frat brothers there taught me how to study and prepare for tests. Today, they remain some of my best friends and former KWC teammates during those championship years.”

The first black athlete to graduate in four years at KWC, he would later become the first former KWC athlete to give a commencement speech. He has also served on the KWC Board of Trustees for 10 years, and is in the midst of his second tour as Trustee Emeritus.

A two-time Division II All-American and the 1969 Division II Tournament Most Outstanding Player, he’d
try out for the 1968 Olympic Games. But an ankle injury forced him out, becoming an alternate.

He would go on to be drafted in 1969 by two professional basketball teams: in the second round by the professional American Basketball Association Oakland Oaks and in the sixth round by the more established National Basketball Association Chicago Bulls. He opted for the better paycheck – which came from the Oaks.

Yet that franchise moved to Washington, D.C., where the now Washington Capitols would trade him to Kentucky after five games. His short career with the Kentucky Colonels helped him understand the business of the sport but also allowed him to play against and become friends with basketball legend and ABA superstar Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Tinsley would also play for the Miami Floridians and the New York Nets before being released, ending his three year career. It was while playing for the Floridians in 1972 that Tinsley married his wife, Seretha, who he met in college.

Tinsley went from the court to the classroom, working as a high school teacher while coaching track, cross country and basketball. School bussing in 1976 ended that career, along with a growing family.

But as one door closed, another opened. Taking a job with the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation as a business trainer, he created their first franchisee program while learning from the legend himself, none other than Colonel Sanders. Eight years later, after matriculating through the corporate ladder, the opportunity to open a franchise in the Auburndale area – and gain a home in Winter Haven – Tinsley, along with his business partner Seretha, opened his first KFC franchise in Auburndale.

Today, that portfolio has grown to more than 60 restaurants in Tampa, Miami and his home of Louisville, Kentucky. He credits the hard work and determination he learned on the court that changed his life’s path back in Smoketown. He also credits the partnership created with his wife of 52 years for his family business success.

For example, he quickly pivoted when his first restaurant location in Auburndale burned down. Inspired by a food truck illuminated by the flames, he sold chicken and snackables out of the truck to supplement
the sales while the restaurant was rebuilt. That move allowed him to keep his staff, given that he had two other KFCs in Polk County, and to pick up new business customers. Once reopened, the store that had done a million dollars in business before the fire made $2.5 million the first year it was rebuilt.

“Never be afraid to fail,” said Tinsley. “Failure is not final. If you fail, you can step back, see how you
failed, and try it again. Successful people fail, and you learn from that. You must learn how to fold them and move on if it isn’t there. Each business should stand on its own. Do your due diligence.”

Today, the business is a family affair, with his son, George, serving as president and the managing partner.