SOME OF THE MOREHOUSE COLLEGE CHEERLEADERS, AT THE BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASSIC, SEPT. 3, IN CANTON, OHIO. (PHOTO BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
More and more Black Pittsburghers are catching on, taking the hour and 45-minute trip west to Canton, Ohio, for the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic, which just finished up its fourth edition.
After all, it’s the closest place to Pittsburgh to witness the pageantry, the bands, the unique atmosphere that is Black College Football.
Most local sports historians agree that the last football game between two HBCUs in Pittsburgh was Sept. 12, 1970—yep, 53 years ago—when Grambling College (now Grambling State University) faced Morgan State University, at the old Three Rivers Stadium.
BIG-TIME ACTION WAS HAD AT THE BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASSIC BETWEEN MOREHOUSE, IN WHITE, AND VIRGINIA UNION. (PHOTO BY MIKE PATTON)
It was so long ago, some newspaper wire services were still referring to African Americans as “Negroes.” United Press International, a news agency wire service that competed with the now-better-known Associated Press, wrote in a brief on June 2, 1970, that “the two Negro powerhouses played in the Yankee Stadium in New York the last two seasons, Morgan State winning, 9-7, in 1968 and Grambling winning, 30-12, last year.”
In 2019, the first Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic occurred at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton between Alabama A&M and Morehouse, which Alabama A&M won. The 2020 game between Howard and Central State was canceled due to the COVID pandemic. In 2021, Grambling defeated Tennessee State, 16-0. In 2022, the first year that New Pittsburgh Courier staffers traveled to Canton and reported on the classic, Central State defeated Winston-Salem State, 41-21.
VIRGINIA UNION UNIVERSITY WON DECISIVELY, 45-13. (PHOTO BY MIKE PATTON)
This year, 2023, Courier representatives spotted more African Americans from Pittsburgh in the announced crowd of 9,333, including Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters, members of the Westinghouse High School football team, and other Westinghouse supporters.
VIRGINIA UNION WINS THE TROPHY! (PHOTO BY MIKE PATTON)
They were treated to a contest between Morehouse College and Virginia Union University, Black schools from Atlanta and Richmond, respectively.
The crowd was decidedly for Virginia Union, and the favored team didn’t disappoint, running away with the contest in the second half en route to a 45-13 victory, Sept. 3. Virginia Union running back Jada Byers had three touchdowns and a game-high 147 yards. The Virginia Union defense was also stout, giving Morehouse fits for much of the game.
WESTINGHOUSE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE ‘HOUSE!’
The annual contest is held the Sunday before Labor Day, and for this, the 2023 edition, there were more pregame tailgates in the parking lots. There was entertainment prior to gameday, too. On Saturday, Sept. 2, Downtown Canton hosted the HBCU Block Party, which featured music, games, giveaways, the Virginia Union University marching band and cheerleaders, and a special performance by 2023 Black College Football Hall of Fame inductee Henry “Killer” Lawrence. Later that evening, the gospel concert headliner was Grammy award-winner Tamela Mann.
PITTSBURGH’S OWN A.J. ROSS INTERVIEWS STEELERS GREAT MEL BLOUNT DURING THE BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASSIC. (PHOTO BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
Part of the weekend includes the honoring of the year 2023 members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees, in addition to Lawrence (Florida A&M University), were: Leslie Frazier (Alcorn State University), Albert Lewis (Grambling State University), Jim Marsalis (Tennessee State University), Tyrone McGriff (Florida A&M University), Elijah Pitts (Philander Smith College), Johnnie Walton (Elizabeth City State University), and Coach Pete Richardson (Southern University, Winston Salem State University).
DOUG WILLIAMS, THE FIRST BLACK QUARTERBACK TO WIN A SUPER BOWL, BEING INTERVIEWED ON NFL NETWORK…
“This Class is another representation of the immense football talent that has played at historically Black colleges and universities,” said BCFHOF Co-Founder and 2011 Inductee Doug Williams, in a statement. “Several of these players were college All-Americans, high NFL draft picks and Pro Bowlers.”
Williams, of course, was the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl (XXII, 22, on Jan. 31, 1988). He starred at Grambling State University and won the Super Bowl over Denver as the quarterback of the NFL’s Washington Redskins (now Commanders).
MOREHOUSE PRESIDENT DAVID A. THOMAS, CLEVELAND RADIO PERSONALITY MICAH DIXON, VIRGINIA UNION PRESIDENT HAKIM J. LUCAS. (PHOTO BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
Officials associated with the annual game reported record sponsorship participation for the 2023 contest. More than 35 sponsors put their money where their mouth is, which allowed for more in-game fan activities with “The Yard” sponsored by Sam’s Club. It’s where fraternities and sororities performed classic step routines between quarters, and other fans danced to music provided by Cleveland radio station WENZ-FM (107.9). The Block Party was sponsored by CSE Federal Credit Union, the gospel concert’s sponsor was The Good Feet Store, and Huntington Bank and Sugardale served as other major sponsors.
“Through collaboration with business leaders in our community and their dedicated efforts to support the initiatives of the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic, we have been able to grow the Classic year-over-year,” said the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Executive Vice President of Sponsorships & Partnerships, Pat Lindesmith, in a statement. “This strong collaboration has enabled us to offer more events and support to enhance the overall weekend and fan experience.”
PITTSBURGHERS AT THE GAME!