CHICAGO — The rivalry between Hampton University and Howard University is the stuff of legend; ask an alum from either institution and they’ll each tell you that they attended the far superior school.
But trash talk was just part of the fun of Saturday’s Chicago Football Classic. Now in its 22nd year, its main purpose is to increase college attendance among the city’s black youth. Every year, two HBCUs — historically black colleges and univerisities — go head to head, capping off a weekend of alumni events.
Last weekend’s matchup wasn’t by a nail-biter by any means (Howard lost to Hampton 41-20, dropping their season record to 0-3), but watching two passionate fanbases shade each other may very well have been worth the price of admission.
In addition to the game, there was a college and career fair, a “Battle of the High School Bands” and a Teen Summit — a nod to the ’90s BET talk show of the same name.
Proceeds from the game at Soldier Field benefitted the Classic’s scholarship fund, which raised more than $1.5 million to send 4,000 local students to college last year, according to the foundation.
Thirty HBCUs participated in the Classic’s college and career fair, along with Chicago City Colleges and Chicago State University.
“For over 20 years we have been relentless in our efforts to ensure that African American youth and their families experience one of the most lauded aspects of the HBCU experience. The Gridiron Rivalry — the football game rivalry and Battle of the Bands,” said Chicago Football Classic co-founder Larry Huggins. “However, our primary commitment has been towards raising scholarship dollars, while increasing exposure to these institutions with exceptional track records of grooming our next generation of leaders.”
Sun-Times features writer and copy editor Evan Moore said that outside of watching his team beat Howard last weekend, he enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and classmates the most.
“I loved it. I got to see classmates I hadn’t seen since I graduated, traded stories that have gotten more outrageous over time, shared pictures of our families,” said Moore, a 2002 Hampton grad.
“The Chicago Football Classic is one of the city’s Blackest events besides the Silver Room Block Party and the Bud [Bud Billiken Parade]. I took off work to attend,” Moore said. “To see so many smiling, happy black folks wearing their HBCU gear was counter to the narrative our city has. The city got to see the power of the black dollar.”
Freelance sports writer Shakeia Taylor echoed Moore’s sentiments.
“It was great to see generations of HBCU alum hugging and hanging out,” said Taylor, a Loyola alum who was attending the Classic for the first time. “I saw an elder from Tuskegee grab a young man wearing a Tuskegee shirt to ask him when he graduated, and take a photo of him. It was really sweet.”
The camaraderie is also what keeps University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alum Kiaya Perry coming back.
“I get to see all the greeks, all the different schools, and all the kids enjoying each other,” said Perry, a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. “We walked around sharing food and running into old friends. It was a fun day.”
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