As the Chicago Football Classic is steadfastly approaching its 20th Anniversary weekend, co-founder and producer Everett Rand along with business partner Larry Huggins have made the Chicago media rounds with the participating school Athletic Directors. HBCU football teams Clark Atlanta University Panthers and Grambling State University Tigers are facing off on Saturday, September 30 at Soldier Field for the only collegiate football classic in the North.
Grambling State University is considered one of the more prominent football programs in the country with a long tradition of championship wins, as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SAC). Under the guidance of the legendary coach Eddie Robinson from 1955 to 1994, GSU Tigers won 19 Championship games and 11 thereafter including the 2016 SAC Celebration Bowl HBCU National Championship. Just as sterling as their football program—the school’s marching band boost a stellar history of great musicians and top-level entertainment at half-time. They have had the honor of performing at back-to-back inaugural presidential ceremonies for President Barack Obama.
Based in Grambling, La., the school has nurtured and produced a long line of Chicago alumni including Alderman Greg Mitchell and Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Eryka Badu. The Chicago Football Classic expects a strong turnout of not only both school’s alumni but the support of graduates overall.
GSU’s Athletic Director Paul Bryant is excited about being a part of this year’s CFC and working with businessmen and organizers Larry Huggins, Tim Rand and Everett Rand on making sure HBCU schools are highlighted on a national platform.
A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Everett Rand understands the difference between non-HBCU and HBCU institutions.
“I think when you look back at education, the PWI’s (predominately white institutions) have one theory of educating our youth and the HBCUs have another. There’s a nurturing concept with the HBCUs, you’re not just a number on campus. You’re a part of the family and the important thing is the inspiration that after graduation, people speak so highly of their experience there. The friends that they’ve met, the conversations and their teachers have been there,” said Rand.
Therefore, Rand and his partners are thrilled to bring more exposure to HBCU’s through the CFC.
The Defender sat down with GSU’s ADA Paul Bryant and discussed the program’s direction, recruitment and continuing the school’s tradition of producing quality students both athletically and academically.
What has been the changes to the athletic department in the last few years, particularly the football program?
We have a model that we look at. We have to start thinking like 18-23 year olds. When we think like them, we begin to do things a little differently. We communicate with them a lot differently than in the past. It’s a technology age. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat; we’re doing that as an institution as well as an athletics department. Everything that we’re doing, it’s evolved into thinking like the 18-23 year olds.
The kids like to see things. They’re the “microwave” kids, they like to see it now. We’re enhancing the facilities that they’re playing at. Our soccer team is getting new field, our tennis program is getting new courts. Our baseball and softball programs have new playing fields. We’re getting new field turf for the football team in addition to a jumbotron—a big screen. The fans will have a different experience.
By adding this video screen, we’ll have a dance cam, kiss cam—we will do all that stuff to get the fans involved in the game. If you think about it, when you’re doing this—you’re involved in every activity. Those are some things happening at Grambling State.
How do you apply the basic teachings of discipline, integrity, and character building for the “now” generation to prepare your players to be better individuals?
I think by getting the kids to buy in. How you get them to “buy in”? We have to get at them on their level. Communicating with them on their level. If you do this, the discipline will come in because now they believe in what you’re doing. You have the right intentions and you’re trying to help me. At Grambling State, as soon as you come in the door, we start communicating with you on your level. We tell you what our core values are. We tell you what we expect and we communicate with you through our smart phones. It’s been very successful.
Do you find there’s more pressure at HBCU athletic programs as opposed to the Big Ten college programs?
I don’t know if it’s called “pressure.” I think it’s what we expect. I think we want to be better than others. At Grambling State University, what we teach and what we educate on—you got to be the best “you.” I can’t compete with the Big Ten. I know that because the finances are not there. However, the nurturing, the education, the civic engagement is there and we can compete at any level. Our graduates are sitting at the table with those who are graduating with MBA and doctorate degrees from Harvard and Yale. We have a young lady who is a VP at Apple.
What are some of the benefits of doing the traditional football classic games? There is a great deal of them in the Southern region and it has become a high-profile event among the Black community.
Everett Rand: This is the last classic in the North. We don’t want to be viewed as “carpetbaggers.” We’ve managed to survive because of the support from the mayor’s office, the aldermanic, state legislators and corporate Chicago. It’s important to us that these gentlemen embrace Chicago as a new destination not just to recruit from but [to share] the value of the HBCU schools. It’s difficult because their funding has shrunk throughout the years but education is still education. It’s the most valuable asset that you can have.
Paul Bryant: For our young men, this will be like a “bowl-like” experience. It helps our finances as well but it’s more than just a game. We’re looking at exposing our brand which will bring people here. The GSU brand is international and people want to see Grambling. It’s a legacy and it’s strong.