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CIAA Conference That I Know Stronger, Better Than Ever

I grew up arguably in the heart of CIAA land. Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., gave me a first-hand view of Winston-Salem Teachers College (now State University), one of the original members of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). Nearby were other CIAA schools, like North Carolina A&T, North Carolina College (now University), Fayetteville College (now State University), Livingstone College and my alma mater, Johnson C Smith University. All of these schools had and have rich academic programs and athletic traditions.

Over time North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central moved on to another division, as did Hampton Institute (now University) and Norfolk State College (now University). Winston-Salem State moved to another conference for a few years, but now they have come back home to the CIAA.

I have been on the Winston-Salem State campus countless times. In fact, one of its presidents, Dr. Kenneth R. Williams lived on our street.

Back in the day it was a big deal to go to an athletic contest featuring Winston-Salem Teachers College. The school was fondly called TC. In my neighborhood lived one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time, Clarence “Big House” Gaines. His coaching achievements and contributions to the game of basketball have been characterized as iconic. When young boys like me would go over to his house, we would run into basketball players like Teddy Blunt, Richard Glover and Louis “Left Hand” Parker. Of course, the greatest player that he coached was Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. It didn’t hurt that Big House’s wife, Clara Gaines, taught some of us Latin in high school, so we were always around their house and Skyland Recreation Center, which was across the street.

The CIAA Basketball Tournament was a staple in Winston-Salem, N.C., for a number of years. Outstanding teams like Virginia State College (now University), Virginia Union University and the ones that I mentioned earlier made it a treat for us as young boys to attend. Shaw University, St. Paul’s College, St. Augustine University and Elizabeth City State University also were members of the conference and competed in the tournament as well. During that time the aforementioned schools in North Carolina and Virginia made up the majority of the CIAA.

While you hear basketball enthusiasts talk about Tobacco Road and schools like Duke and North Carolina, there has also been as much conversation about schools like Johnson C. Smith University, Virginia Union University and Winston-Salem State University. Coaches like Steve Joyner (Johnson C. Smith) and Dave Robbins (retired coach at Virginia Union) are coaching legends in the CIAA. Joyner and his brother, Ed “Buck” Joyner, who is a basketball coach at Livingstone College, have a basketball coaching family. Both of their sons are college basketball coaches. The CIAA Conference was something that we just took for granted in Winston-Salem, as seeing Coach Gaines and great college athletes wasn’t anything unusual. However as I reflect now, I realize what a special time that was.

Going to the “Turkey Bowl,” a game which featured North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central, was a highlight of the Thanksgiving weekend. As young guys, being able to attend a game featuring those two schools was simply the best. And watching Winston-Salem Teachers College play their games at Bowman Gray Stadium was just priceless.

If you fast forward to 2013, the CIAA has changed quite a bit. Athletic teams within the conference are better. Student-athletes from the CIAA schools are graduating in greater numbers and the conference has added more schools. For example, Bowie State University (Md.), Chowan University (N.C.) and Lincoln University (Pa.) are members now. The marketing of the CIAA has certainly contributed to the overall success, not only of the conference, but also of the schools. For example, the CIAA Basketball Tournament is a huge event. Alumni of these schools and those who never attended one of the conference’s schools plan vacations around the basketball tournament.

Unfortunately the CIAA Conference was featured in the news last week for the wrong reasons. The CIAA Football Championship game was to have been played between Virginia State and Winston-Salem State. However, there was a fight between the players, which led to the cancellation of the game. There are different versions as to what transpired. The media, including ESPN, has reported on the incident, as Winston-Salem State continues to advance in the Division II playoffs against Shepherd on Saturday.

We can’t let this incident tarnish the reputations of the schools involved or the CIAA Conference. This misstep is an aberration and cannot be the lens from which we judge the schools and the conference. Both the schools and the conference have great days in front of them.

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