Alcorn and North Carolina A&T receives warm welcome in Atlanta
When the Alcorn State University Braves and the North Carolina A&T Aggies football teams arrived in Atlanta, Georgia to prepare for their competition in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, the citizens of Atlanta, Georgia welcomed the teams with open arms.
The teams attended a Welcome Dinner at the Georgia Aquarium Wednesday, Dec. 16. The teams enjoyed good food, listened to various speakers and learned about aquatic animals on their tour of the aquarium. Executive Director of the Air Force Celebration Bowl John Grant, who mentioned that the first historically black college and university (HBCU) football game was played 127 years ago, explained how they are living the dreams of their predecessors.
“I want to take a moment to ask you to absorb this time because this is a tremendous moment in history,” said Grant. “What you are doing is fulfilling the visions of people who believed that an event like the Air Force Celebration Bowl could exist. We’re riding on the spirits of people who played this game with nothing, but they saw you in their vision doing exactly what you will be doing in Saturday’s game.”
Damon Watkins, a senior and linebacker for Alcorn, enjoyed being celebrated for their accomplishments on the field.
“This is very exciting and a great opportunity for us,” said Watkins. “We never thought that we’d be playing in a bowl game, so this is a good experience and we’re glad to be here. We’re just taking it all in, but we haven’t loss focus on the game.”
President of the Alcorn Atlanta Alumni Chapter Terry Sadler said that Alcorn’s buzz in Atlanta is growing at an alarming pace, which is great for the university.
“This is great for Alcorn,” said Sadler. “Everyone here is excited about all of the events surrounding Alcorn and the Celebration Bowl. Alcorn has been highly publicized here in Atlanta. This national exposure will put Alcorn on the map.”
The players convened at the Center for Civil and Human Rights Thursday, Dec. 17 for a tour of African-American history. Chief Executive Officer Derreck Kayongo inspired the players to do their best in their studies so that they can make a positive impact in society.
“We have to fight to be included,” said Kayongo. “How do you fight to be included? By studying hard in school, developing a skill set, graduating and becoming part of the economy. What you will see here is who you are. Be proud of the struggles of those who came before you because they have allowed you to be here today.”
Freshman quarterback Noah Johnson enjoyed his experience at the Center.
“It shows our history and how things came together for African-Americans,” said Johnson. “This has been a great experience. We’ve bonded even more as a team.”
After the daily activity, the teams gathered at the College Football Hall of Fame for the Celebration Bowl Champions Dinner. ESPN’s Jay Harris moderated the event and gave his take on the game’s historical significance.
“We are here to celebrate the journey of both of these teams,” said Harris. “We’re making history with this game.”
During the ceremony, Harris interviewed Braves head coach Jay Hopson and Aggies head coach Rod Broadway. When asked what it means to participate in the bowl game, Hopson replied by expressing his pride in Alcorn adding to their historic legacy.
“It’s a huge honor to play in this game,” said Hopson. “Alcorn is a university with a rich heritage and outstanding football program. The fact that our institutions got here to play in the first Celebration Bowl makes us proud. We look forward to showcasing our universities on national television.”
Vice Commander for the Air Force Reserve Command Maj. Gen. Richard S. “Beef” Haddad gave valuable advice to the players.
“The possibilities for you are endless,” said Haddad. “Embrace those possibilities. Relationships are important in every aspect of your life. We can talk about leadership attributes all day long, but it is the relationships that you build that will lead you down a successful path. Finally, remember that all of us are required to provide for the common defense.”
Alcorn’s President Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr gave thanks to those responsible for making the bowl game possible.
“I want to thank the Air Force Reserve and ESPN for the vision, commitment and persistence to make the Celebration Bowl a reality,” said Rankins. “The game on Saturday will culminate in showcasing two great universities, football teams and the greatness of the black college football experience.”