Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Fans embrace black college FB

The Silver Dollar Classic essentially was over at halftime as Grambling State led Tennessee State by four touchdowns Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Many of the announced 22,537 fans didn't stick around to watch GSU roll over TSU 49-14.

But football games between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) have never been just about rushing yardage and pass percentage completion.

"It's seeing the people you interacted with and the friends you made in college all coming together," said Robert Manning, a 1964 TSU graduate from Memphis. "It's the camaraderie you felt while attending a black college.

"We pay lip service to the other team, but when the ballgame is over, it's all in fun. We go back to the hotels, talk about the games and if you lost, you say, 'I'll get you next time.' We take a lot of pride in our schools."

Manning and more than 30 other members of the Memphis Big Blue Club made up of Tennessee State alumni attend as many football and basketball games as possible.

HBCU graduates and non-graduates espoused the party and family reunion-type atmosphere that encompasses every HBCU game.

The night before GSU beat TSU, a Battle of the Bands previewing the highly anticipated halftime show and a "step show" featuring the Las Vegas All-Star Kappas of Kappa Alpha Psi and the Las Vegas chapter of Phi Beta Sigma was held at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The event, emceed by Las Vegas councilman Lawrence Weekly, a Kappa and 1987 Grambling graduate and local deejay, drew more than 11,000.

"Having the black college experience was one of the most awesome things that happened in my life," Weekly said. "To see this come to Las Vegas is phenomenal being that there are no historic black colleges on the West Coast.

"I think this is awesome for Las Vegas. With the attendance, I think this sends a message out that Las Vegas is ready for something like this to return."

Longtime Las Vegan Hugh Dupree took his nieces, Amanda Diaz and Valneisea Diaz, to the Battle of the Bands and the football game.

"It was wonderful seeing so many black people together at one event," Dupree said. "The image was positive.

"I hope it's going to bring a positive attitude for the West Las Vegas neighborhoods where there have been problems with gangs and violence."

People from all over the country showed up to get a taste of HBCU culture.

One of the highlights of every HBCU game is the halftime show when the school bands try to outdo each other. Sometimes, the battle of the bands is better than the game.

"It's entertainment," recent Howard University graduate Logan Coles said. "People come together just to be around the family atmosphere.

"The football game is significant because everybody wants bragging rights, but even more than that, people want to be entertained.

"That's what the band provides. With the HBCU bands, you have a show. It's playing music, dances, cadences, call and response with the audiences. People are just drawn to that. The game is cool, but once you start adding music, people are like, "Ooh, when is the band coming out?"

Coles and South Carolina State University graduate Damon White were selected for the 2002 Ford No Boundaries Ultimate Black College Football Road Trip.

Armed with the keys to a 2003 Ford Expedition, the pair is charged with promoting HBCU and performing community service during stops on their 10-game road trip that will cover 8,492 miles.

The Silver Dollar Classic was the third stop on Coles and White's cross-country adventure. Their next game is the Oct. 5 State Fair Classic between Grambling and Prairie View in Dallas.

Coles proudly bragged that Howard's homecoming is always the best game of the year and expounded on the black college football experience.

"It's a celebration of black people and being pro active," he said. "One thing I can appreciate about attending a black college is that I was around thousands of brothers and sisters that wanted to be doctors, lawyers and entertainers. People who wanted to be successful.

"When you look around at the games, it's a celebration of being around brothers and sisters trying to be upwardly mobile and doing good things in life."

Grambling graduate William Alexander Jr. and his son, William Alexander III, know about the significance of the marching bands.

Alexander Jr. graduated from Grambling in 1969. He said his family took him to see his first black college football game between Southern Univeristy and Florida A&M when he was 7.

"At that time, FAMU had the premiere college band in the country," he said. "I think it grew from there. Other bands wanted to be as good and it became an aspect of black college football."

Alexander III, a clarinet player, attended Grambling for a year and a half. He endured the grueling three-week band tryout that included 5 a.m. exercise drills, but didn't make it.

"It was fun," he said. "It was very serious. A lot of people don't realize that band members have to be in good shape just like the football players because they perform not only at halftime, but throughout the game."

The Silver Dollar Classic was conceived by Earl Harris and Calvin Lovick, who thought Las Vegas would be a good place to hold the game. Harris said the turnout for the band show as well as the game exceeded expectations.

Sam Boyd Stadium and Thomas & Mack Center director Daren Libonati thinks the game will return.

"I think it has been wonderful," he said. "We would like to see this become an annual event." It's playing music, dances, cadences, call and response with the audiences."