Going for the Gold – annual football game

With football and fun, HBCUs take a classic approach to recruitment and fund raising efforts

SAN DIEGO
“Hey Frat,” was only one of the few endearing phrases
heard on this special day. Elderly gentlemen sported their fraternity
baseball caps. Wide-eyed young people wore glowing smiles. And
sophisticated, elegant women donned their sorority sweat-shirts. All
contributed to the big wave of excitement that was in the air here on
Nov. 14, at the Second Annual Gold Coast Classic.

Although this is a familiar historically Black college scene played
out in arenas throughout the South, it is a rare sight on the West
Coast. The crowd of 20,000 witnessed the Grambling State Tigers defeat
the Winston-Salem State Rams, 35-28, at Qualcomm Stadium, where there
was as much electricity among the fans in the seats as there was with
the players and coaches on the field.

“It feels good to play in an NFL stadium,” said Grambling State
wide receiver Scotty Anderson. “The people here in San Diego have been
real good to us.”

Although the football game was the main focal point, the impact of
the three days of Gold Coast Classic events will continue to ripple
throughout this community for months to come.

“I think it is a monumental event for us culturally starved African
Americans in San Diego,” said local resident Leilah Townsend.

“The Gold Coast Classic is part of the explosion of Classic games
played by Black colleges in the past five years,” said Lonza Hardy Jr.,
associate commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. “These
classics are the Black college version of the Sugar Bowl or the Rose
Bowl.”

While many Black colleges have hosted such perennial favorites as
the Bayou Classic, featuring Grambling and Southern universities, other
colleges are seeking to duplicate their success by hosting their own
bowl games. Hardy said that more colleges are beginning to recognize
that the games raise the visibility of their schools and bring in
revenue. For instance, Hardy estimates that the Bayou Classic will
bring in an estimated $1 million in revenue from the 66,000 fans
expected to attend the game and the NBC contract to televise it
nationally.

Corporations have also taken notice of the growing number of fans
who attend these classics and have signed up to become sponsors.

Moreover, the classics attract a growing number of students and student athletes to Black colleges.

“The interest in Black college sports is fueling an interest in attending Black colleges,” Hardy said.

Gerri Warren, CEO of the Gold Coast Classic and co-editor of this
border town’s only predominantely African American newspaper, The San
Diego Voice and Viewpoint, envisioned the event after she and her
family relocated here from Washington, D.C.

“When we moved back, there was an absence of all the culture that
surrounds the activities involving historically Black colleges,” Warren
said. “I grew up in Florida and we had the Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida
A&M football classic and since I couldn’t go home, we decided to
bring the mountain to Muhammad and start our own classic.”

After three years of planning and one failed attempt to get the
project off the ground, the organizers of the Gold Coast Classic sought
help from the organizers of the successful Circle City, Classic in
Indianapolis. As a result, Howard University and Morgan State
University played in the first Gold Coast Classic last year after the
organizers garnered community support and a $25,000 sponsorship from
the U.S. Postal Service.

In just its second year of existence, the Gold Coast Classic
featured three days of events including a Black college fair, gospel
music show, golf tournament, parade, and the well-received step show
and battle of the bands.

“Last year, we expected 2,500 people to show up for the battle of
the bands and 6,000 showed up,” Warren said. This year, nearly 7,500
people attended the show.

The ultimate goals of the classics are to increase the awareness
and visibility of HBCUs, raise scholarship money, and promote economic
development in the community. They are goals that appeal to the
presidents of both universities that played in this year’s game.

“We’re a Division II institution who played a Division I
institution where a lot of folks don’t know a lot about historically
Black institutions,” said Dr. Alvin Schexnider, chancellor of
Winston-Salem University. “This classic is a great opportunity for us
to raise the visibility of our university.”

Dr. Steve A. Favors, president of Grambling State University, is
optimistic that the event will become a tradition within the San Diego
community.

“I think this is an excellent classic for only its second year in
existence,” he said. “The Warrens have done a fantastic job of uniting
the community of San Diego. This is a different community and for this
to take place in only two years is almost unbelievable.”

Aside from corporate sponsorship, the organizers hope to be able to
reach out to neighboring communities to draw more people into the San
Diego area for this event.

Other cities that have established this type of event are already
reaping the benefits monetarily within their communities. For example,
Earl Wilson Jr., president and founder of the Gateway Classic in St.
Louis, has brought $1 million into that city. Warren hopes to do as
well in her city.

“In the next few years, I would like to see a full stadium every
year. I would like to have enough money to start giving major
scholarships to deserving students, [and] to give money to
organizations so that we don’t have to go downtown for help,” she said.

“We need to start helping ourselves,” Warren continued. “We know what our problems are, we know what our needs are.”

When the Qualcomm Stadium lights dimmed, both teams remained on the
field as they and the majority of the fans, still in their seats,
watched fireworks erupt in the night sky. An enormous sense of pride
seemed to fill the air.

“If you were having this classic in Los Angeles or in Oakland,
Calif., I would say that I would not be surprised. But seeing what I’ve
seen tonight, and seeing the support these individuals have gained from
the community, is just phenomenal,” Favors said.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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