Chicago Football Classic: All About Academic Excellence and HBCU Culture

Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Chicago Football Classic co-founder Larry Huggins (Left) and Mark Rand (Right) at the press conference for the CFC at Soldier Field. Photos: Tacuma Roeback

Saturday’s Chicago Football Classic between Central State University and Mississippi Valley State University will be a spirited matchup of hard-hitting football, colorful pageantry and vibrant school spirit that HBCU showcases are known for. Yet, it is so much more than a game.

The not-for-profit Chicago Football Classic aims to inspire African-American high school and college students to pursue academic excellence and consider the rich cultural and educational opportunities that HBCUs offer.

That was the message at Soldier Field as dignitaries such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. JB Pritzker, U.S. Rep Danny Davis, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Mayor Brandon Johnson, Alds. Stephanie Golden and Lamont Robinson, along with Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus members, joined CFC co-founder Larry Huggins and Mark Rand for a Friday afternoon Chicago Football Classic press conference at Soldier Field. 

“The Chicago Football Classic is yet another example of our city’s business and philanthropic communities and our political leadership coming together to create an event that draws people from near and far to enjoy the best of Chicago and to lift up our young people,” said Pritzker.

Why the CFC is More Than a Game

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle embraces Rep. Danny Davis at Chicago Football Classic press conference.

The CFC has been responsible for sending more kids to HBCUs in the state’s history than ever before, said Huggins, adding that it’s an achievement that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. 

“When you look at the impact that this game now means to inner city kids, especially with the attack on affirmative action, Black colleges will play a huge role in the education of our kids,” Huggins said. 

His sentiment was echoed by Preckwinkle, who brought attention to the free HBCU College and Career Fair that precedes the actual CFC football game. 

Having spent the first ten years of her working life as a teacher and educator, Preckwinkle said she would stress the importance of guiding students toward HBCUs. Her belief was simple yet profound – it wasn’t just about getting into college; it was about completing college.

“We believed that our young people, our young men and women, were more likely to find mentors, people who would look out for them, make sure that they got over the finish line, at an HBCU than a majority institution,” she said. 

“So I’m really grateful, not just for putting on the football game and for promoting HBCUs, but for the college fair that precedes the game at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, right here in Soldier Field.”

A Celebration of HBCU Culture

Indeed, the football game is the culminating event for a week of various activities, which all served to highlight why students of color in Chicago should consider HBCUs. 

On Tuesday, HBCU alums and current students proudly wore their school paraphernalia to the Chicago Cubs game for HBCU night, where the Chicago HBCU Alumni Choir belted out the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before the start of the game. There was also a Greek Step Show at Chicago State, a Golf Outing and Luncheon at the Harborside International Golf Course and a “Battle of the Bands Showcase & Pep Rally” at Daley Plaza.

On Saturday, there is the aforementioned HBCU College and Career Fair, a Battle of the High School Bands and a Divine 9 Greek Row Pre-Game Greek Reunion, among other events.

The CFC began as a vision of Huggins and fellow co-founders Tim and Everett Rand, who got the idea to launch the event in 1997 when they visited the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, another storied HBCU football showcase about three hours south of the city. 

With Chicago’s significant Black population and history, it only made sense to have an HBCU football event here as well. 

“You have more African Americans in the city of Chicago and the County of Cook than Indianapolis. So, at the end of the day, it means more when we do it here, and we expose our kids. Indianapolis, even though it’s north, it’s still south,” he said. “That’s why this game is important, and that’s why this game needs to continue. And that’s why we’re encouraging our kids,” Huggins said. 

As the event concluded, the message was clear: the Chicago Football Classic was not just about football but about empowering young African-American students to consider HBCUs and the wellspring of opportunities they offer. The CFC’s mission will continue, said Huggins. as long as his and his co-founders’ families are around.

But on Saturday, there is still a football game as Central State University Interim President Alex Johnson and Mississippi Valley State University President Dr. Jerryl Briggs also gave remarks at the press conference.

“We want to make sure that tomorrow, even though it’s a football game, and we’re competing after that game, we’re going to hug each other,” said Dr. Briggs. “I’m going to hug the president of Central State. And we’re going to understand that together, we all have to work together to make sure our universities continue to build and grow.”

For more information about the Chicago Football Classic’s Free HBCU College & Career Fair at Soldier Field, visit

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