Livingstone celebrates success in tourney
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
The atmosphere was electric in Varick Auditorium Wednesday as Salisbury Mayor Susan W. Kluttz was on hand for a celebration honoring Livingstone College’s men’s basketball team for its historic performance at last week’s CIAA Tournament.
The Blue Bears made it to the championship game of the CIAA Tournament for the first time in school history after pulling off three consecutive victories against St. Paul’s College, Virginia Union University and Fayetteville State University. Livingstone was defeated by Shaw University 72-69 in the final game, but on Wednesday that hardly mattered to administrators, faculty, students and staff.
The pep band played, the cheerleaders cheered and numerous times throughout the 90-minute assembly the audience was on its feet showering the men’s basketball team and its coaches with much-deserved applause.
But the men’s basketball team wasn’t all Livingstone officials celebrated on Wednesday, as the Blue Bears women’s team and a few individual students were also recognized for their accomplishments.
“This is a day of celebration,” Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. said as the festivities began. “I’m reminded of the part in the Bible where Jesus healed the 10 lepers. After they were healed they ran off in different directions … and only one came back to say thank you. We wanted to be like that one leper that came back to say thank you.”
Student Government Association President Patrice Evans-Saunders, a senior criminal justice major from New York, encouraged her colleagues to build on last week’s momentum by “getting back into your studies,” fitting because students are taking midterm exams this week. She also reminded them of the oft-quoted adage “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Miss Livingstone College, Cassaundra La’Joyce Rhodes, a senior biology major from Charlotte and also a starter on the Blue Bears women’s squad, said a St. Augustine’s College alum told her last week that she was rooting for Livingstone to go all the way. Rhodes also said an Elizabeth City State University alum told her he loved the spirit exhibited by students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans of Livingstone College at the CIAA Tournament, held in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.
“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a process and working together is success,” Rhodes said as she quoted Ford Motor Co. Founder Henry Ford before sitting down.
After Rhodes’ remarks, Jenkins asked the pep band and cheerleaders to perform. And just as they do at Livingstone College home games, students chimed in with the cheerleaders during their chants.
Besides making the finals of the CIAA Tournament for the first time, the men’s basketball team was also awarded by CIAA officials for having the highest GPA, 2.89, among the 13 CIAA schools.
“The fact that our men’s team managed to pull off a winning season while also maintaining the highest grade point average among all the CIAA schools shows that at Livingstone College we understand the term is student-athletes, not athlete-students,” said Dr. Leroy Simmons, vice president of academic affairs. “Anyone who has ever played sports while attending school, be it middle school, high school or college, knows that playing sports and keeping up your grades isn’t easy. But our men’s program, led by head coach James Stinson Jr. and assistant coach Anthony Holliday, has done just that, and they are certainly to be commended.”
Senior forward Darius Cox of Monroe was named MVP of the championship game, even though the Blue Bears fell short, and he was also named to the All CIAA Tournament Team. He was joined on the All CIAA Tournament Team by teammate Greg Henry, a junior forward from Atlanta.
In addition, Stinson was named CIAA Coach of the Year. The team’s 17-12 record is the best in school history, tying Stinson’s first season as head coach.
On Wednesday, Kluttz read aloud a proclamation naming March 9, 2011, “Livingstone College Men’s Basketball Day” in the city of Salisbury.
Kluttz learned about the men’s team’s accomplishments earlier this week.
“All I can say is wow,” Kluttz said as she stepped to the podium “On behalf of the city of Salisbury, you have made us proud. When Dr. Jenkins told me you were going to be celebrating today, I said, ‘Well, I need to be there, too.’ We are so proud to be here. It’s not just how far the team went; it’s (also) having the highest GPA. That’s incredible. I think the holistic college approach at this college and what you have accomplished is incredible.”
Just before reading the proclamation, Kluttz exclaimed: “I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more impressive proclamation in my 14 years as mayor.”
The Blue Bears women’s team also was recognized on Wednesday because last week CIAA Tournament officials honored them with the 2011 John B. McClendon Award for Sportsmanship, named after an icon in black college basketball who coached at former CIAA member institution North Carolina Central University, other HBCUs, in the NBA and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Senior Brittany Wright was also singled out on Wednesday because she was named CIAA Player of the Week last week. Wright also was previously named to the All Conference CIAA Team and scored her 1,000th point during a Livingstone College home game. Freshman Tiffany Evans was applauded Wednesday for being named CIAA Freshman of the Week at the tournament.
Senior Chelson Perry of Williamston was called to the stage by Jenkins for the way he rallied students to flock to Time Warner Cable Arena to support the Blue Bears. And freshman Stephen Graddick IV of Charlotte receive a huge round of applause for beating out more than 200 entrants and winning the Toyota Green Initiative Contest, which sought to find the CIAA student who devised the most innovative plan to make his or her college greener.
Graddick devised a creative environmental plan to host a Green Awareness Week to improve sustainability at Livingstone College. He created a green “drop zone” where people could discard batteries, paper, plastic bottles and other items. Contestants were judged on effectiveness, which counted 50 percent, and creativity and voting, which counted 25 percent each.
Final tallies were close between Graddick and a female student from Bowie State University, but officials say school support — Graddick marketed his drop zone with a video created by student members of Livingstone College’s Media Team — helped garner him the win.
“The Toyota Green Initiative is a powerful social awareness campaign that provides our future leaders with the resources and tools to create a valuable environmental impact,” said Jim Colon, vice president of Toyota product communications for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “The rich partnership with the CIAA is representative of shared values, and has afforded Toyota the opportunity to continue the conversation on sustainable living.”
As one of four finalists, Graddick won $500 for personal use and another $500 to use toward his project. For winning the grand prize, Graddick gets to drive a third-generation Toyota Prius for a year. Also, because Graddick won, Livingstone College will receive a tree park to be paid for by Toyota, and Toyota officials will eventually come to the college for a ceremony.
Elizabeth City Mayor Roger A. McLean, who is an internal auditor at Livingstone, also honored the men’s team with a Mayoral Certificate of Recognition as the ceremony came to a close.
“Livingstone College took Charlotte by storm,” a jubilant Jenkins said in his final remarks Wednesday. “Our men’s basketball team, our women’s basketball team and other students helped put Livingstone College on the map. There were more than 102,000 tickets sold for the games, more than 1 million viewers watched the CIAA Tournament on television and the performance of our team brought Livingstone alumni out of the woodwork.
“All of a sudden these beautiful black and blue colors showed up everywhere, all over Charlotte, and people were talking about the coolness of our team and how they kept their composure in games even when they were down,” Jenkins continued. “Our men’s team was projected to finish last in the regular season in the CIAA and not to get past the first round of the tournament. Well, look at us now.”
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