Livingstone, Johnson C. Smith players urged to be proud of legacy they're part of
By Laurie Willis
Livingstone College News Service
CHARLOTTE - The commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association on Friday encouraged football players at Livingstone College and Johnson C. Smith University to be proud of the legacy of which they're a part.
She also encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by their institution to stand up for what they believe in, to think positively and to make good choices.
Jacqie Carpenter, who became commissioner of the CIAA last month, was the keynote speaker at the Hall of Fame Team Banquet Friday night in Grimes Lounge on JCSU's campus. The banquet was the precursor to today's Commemorative Classic contest between The Livingstone College Blue Bears and The JCSU Golden Bulls, which will be played at 1 p.m. in the Irwin Belk Complex on Smith's campus.
On Dec. 27, 1892, Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith - then named Biddle Memorial Institute - played in the first black college football game. It took two days for Johnson C. Smith players to arrive by horse and buggy to Salisbury, where the game was played on Livingstone's front lawn in the snow.
JCSU won the historic contest 5-0.
"Livingstone College and Johnson C. Smith, you are part of the greatest conference in the country and you should be proud of that," Carpenter said. "I know you tweet, so I invite you to go online and tweet to tell the story. There's only one first HBCU football game, and that's here. One. Get on Twitter and Facebook, because I am, and I'm going to tell them I was here with you this evening."
Carpenter played basketball and volleyball at Hampton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology. She gave a short speech to the players.
"Stand strong in what you believe," Carpenter said. "I'm a Christian, and I don't mind saying it. I'm here by the grace of God. You might be good, but you're not as good as you think you are…"
She encouraged the students to think positively, even when faced with obstacles.
"There are a lot of challenges (in life)," she said. "I hit rough walls and all kinds of stuff just to get to this point. Go in with an attitude of optimism because people don't like negative people. I tell my daughter every single day when I drop her off at school to be a blessing to somebody and don't look for anything in return."
Carpenter also encouraged the players to make good choices, be proud of their decisions and bounce back when they err.
"When you make bad choices, pick yourself up and keep moving," she said. "You might make a bad play tomorrow and your coach will take you out, but when he puts you back in (the game) be ready."
After her remarks, Carpenter was given a plaque by Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. and Johnson C. Smith University President Dr. Ronald L. Carter. Jenkins and Carter were inducted into the Commemorative Classic Hall of Fame on Friday.
"I'm humbled by this induction," Jenkins said. "We don't want to ever forget, that while this is about a football game - and we're going to enjoy it - that this is an opportunity. Education is the surest vehicle to upward mobility in the world."
Carter said the men who played in the historic contest in 1892 rose to the challenge, and he encouraged Smith and Livingstone players to do the same today.
"They were not expected to be visionaries," Carter said. "They were not expected to succeed. They were not expected to plant seeds that would grow into strong trees, but they rose up to the great occasion. Everything that we do here tonight should be a motivation for all of you to rise up to great occasions. There is no excuse for you to do anything half way, but there's every reason for you to go all the way."
Although they were serious in their remarks, neither Jenkins nor Carter could pass on the chance to engage in some banter.
"Let me say to my good friend, Dr. Carter," Jenkins began. "I want him to know I've been scheming on him for the last month or so, and we've got something up our sleeves for him tomorrow."
Carter replied, "Well, you can have everything you possibly want up your sleeve, but I have a pair of scissors and we're going to cut your sleeve right off."
JCSU Head Football Coach Steven Aycock and Livingstone Head Football Coach Elvin James also spoke briefly on Friday, each promising a win.
In the end, however, it was about the student-athletes who will take the field today to compete.
Jamaal Brewton, 21, a junior criminal justice major from Miami, said in an interview the significance of the game isn't lost on him.
"I'm happy to be a part of history in the 21st century," said Brewton, a fullback. "I transferred here from N.C. Central University, so I know how important big rivalries are because I played in the Aggie-Eagle Classic for three years."
Brewton, who predicted The Golden Bulls will win today's game 28-14, said it amazes him that Livingstone and JCSU played in the inaugural black college football game.
Carl James, 22, a senior business administration from Williston, Fla., said playing in the Commemorative Classic is big.
"It means a lot because we're the first schools to start black college football, so it means a lot to me to play in this game," James said. "I found out the significance of the game last year when I came to Livingstone and some of the coaches and players were talking about how it all started on LC's front lawn."
James' game prediction: Livingstone 35, JCSU 21.