Trent Gymnasium filled for celebration
In a celebration nearly 70 years in the making, Livingstone College alumni, students, faculty and staff partied inside Trent Gymnasium Wednesday in commemoration of the men’s basketball team’s historic CIAA Championship.
The Blue Bears earned the right to finally be called CIAA champions Saturday after defeating rival Winston-Salem State University 83-68 inside Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. The victory moved Livingstone from bridesmaid status — the Blue Bears were tournament runners-up in 2013 and 2011 — and proved the third time really is a charm.
“I’ve been going to the tournament for more than 40 years,” said Fannie Butler of Salisbury, who earned a bachelor’s degree in math from Livingstone in 1949. “Over the years I was expecting them to win the CIAA but didn’t know if we would or not.”
Family commitments kept Butler from Time Warner Cable Arena last weekend, but she was ecstatic when she learned her alma mater had finally captured the coveted CIAA Championship.
She was inside an electrified Trent Gym on Wednesday to celebrate the Blue Bears’ win. The festivities, which followed a parade that started at Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church, featured several dignitaries.
Among them were Bishop George E. Battle Jr., Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees, his wife, Iris M. Battle, Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., First Lady Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins, Salisbury Mayor Paul B. Woodson Jr., Dari Caldwell, president of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, and Scott Teamer, president of the Salisbury chapter of the NAACP.
“History was made on Saturday night,” Jenkins told the pumped-up crowd. “For 135 years this institution has existed, and Saturday night we made history in the CIAA.”
Jenkins praised James Stinson Jr., who coached at Barber-Scotia College in Concord before joining Livingstone. Jenkins said when he was chancellor at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., the men’s team knew Barber-Scotia would be tough because of Stinson.
“When I came to Livingstone in 2006, lo and behold there was James Stinson,” Jenkins said, adding he knew the Blue Bears were in good hands.
Jenkins’ wife, a staunch team supporter, echoed her husband’s sentiments. “I am proud of these young men who did what they set out to do,” she said. “I’m happy to be in this place at this time.”
Battle, a 1969 Livingstone graduate, said he’s glad the Blue Bears no longer get beaten handily.
“I’ve been around and I’ve seen us get whipped,” Battle said, referencing the days when Clarence “Big House” Gaines coached at Winston-Salem and NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe played there. “But today we have a coach and a team that everybody is talking about…”
Battle praised Stinson and also lauded the players for having the highest GPA among the 12 men’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association squads.
Woodson came bearing a proclamation and told the players they’ve put Livingstone on the map.
“We want you to know we are proud of you,” Woodson said. “And we want you to go and win your next game.”
The Blue Bears are expected to learn in a few days against whom they’ll compete in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Teamer, who participated in the parade, told the players they were powerful men. Caldwell congratulated them and gave Stinson a framed copy of articles about their victory that appeared in the Post and The Charlotte Observer.
The speeches were fine, but no celebration is complete without some fun. The pep band played, the cheerleaders performed, and faculty and staff competed against the students to see which group could display the most school spirit by dancing.
The students went first, moving to “Choppa Style” by Master P. Yet they didn’t stand a chance against the faculty and staff who proved they still have it when the timeless classic “Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly blared through the PA system.
The applause was loud as Blue Bears announcer Sylvester Kyles, Jr. introduced the players, but it grew thunderous when Mark Thomas, a senior point guard from Saginaw, Mich., walked onto the court. Thomas, this year’s CIAA Player of The Year — a first in Livingstone history — earned Tournament MVP honors and joined Jody Hill, a senior shooting guard from Detroit, and Emarri Bailey, a junior forward from Jacksonville, Fla., on the All Tournament squad.
“It was very good to hear and feel the support from everybody in the community and at the school,” Thomas said after the celebration.“It was a big thing because it was the first time in history for us winning the CIAA.”
Thomas said the players were especially happy for Stinson, a quiet man who always credits God for his success and who pointed upward while walking to the podium Wednesday.
“First of all, giving honor to my heavenly father and savior, this is truly a monumental day for Livingstone College, Rowan County and Salisbury,” Stinson said. “Without the students, faculty and staff none of this would have happened.”
Stinson, who said the players realize their ultimate goal is to graduate, thanked them for buying into the Blue Bears system.
Before taking his seat he quoted Romans 8:31, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” and 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.”
Stinson is known for motivating his players, but on Wednesday he lit a fire under nearly everybody in Trent Gym.
And Blue Bears fans everywhere hope that fire keeps burning as the team tries to make a run in the playoffs.