City Council honors Blue Bears after historic CIAA championship

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SALISBURY — The average height at Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting probably broke a record when the entire, triumphant Livingstone College men’s basketball team filled the chambers after their historic victory at the CIAA Tournament.

The Blue Bears captured the CIAA championship for the first time ever Saturday night by defeating Winston-Salem State University 83-68 in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

To commemorate the win, which came exactly one week after senior point guard Mark Thomas was named CIAA Player of the Year — another first in school history — Livingstone will have a parade at 10 a.m. today (see box).

Livingstone not only won the tournament but also had the highest grade-point average among the 12 men’s CIAA teams.

“We want the world to know and the city to know that these are not just jocks,” college President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins Sr. told City Council. “These are young men who are student-athletes.”

Jenkins credited basketball coach James Stinson with both the team’s athletic and academic performances. Stinson thanked the city and Rowan County for support, as well as college administration.

“We are not only competitive on the floor, but they are competitive in the classroom,” he said.

Stinson said he wants the team members to become great alumni of Livingstone and great stewards of what they have learned at the school.

“We want them to continue to provide valuable service to the community,” he said.

Mayor Paul Woodson presented a framed proclamation to Stinson, Jenkins, athletic director Andre Springs and the four team captains. Councilman Pete Kennedy, a Livingstone alumnus, thanked city staff for pulling together the proclamation and presentation in less than 24 hours.

The Blue Bears went to Charlotte and put together three strong victories to bring Livingstone its first CIAA championship, Jenkins said.

Last year, the men’s team made it to the CIAA finals but came up short to Bowie State University. Two years ago, Livingstone lost in the finals to Shaw University.

“The losses hurt, but all year long I and others affiliated with Livingstone College have had a hunch that this was our year, our time,” Jenkins said in a news release.

That Livingstone won the CIAA wasn’t a total surprise. The Blue Bears entered the tournament as serious contenders after having won the Southern Division of the CIAA for the second, consecutive season – another first in school history.

The Blue Bears had a two-round bye and opened play at 1 p.m. Thursday against St. Augustine’s University. After defeating them, Livingstone then beat Fayetteville State University in the semi-finals Friday night before beating Winston-Salem State University for the title on Saturday.

Thomas, who in addition to being named CIAA Player of the Year was also named Tournament MVP, scored 23 points for the Blue Bears in the championship game.

Senior shooting guard Jody Hill scored 21, and junior forward Eric Mayo grabbed 17 rebounds. Thomas, Hill and Emarri Bailey were named to the All-CIAA Team.

Livingstone’s victory in the conference championship finals is the school’s first in the event’s 69-year history. Monday afternoon it was announced that the CIAA Tournament will remain in Charlotte for the next six years, and in 2016, the CIAA will move its headquarters to the Queen City.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.