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Bayou Classic continues to grow in scope and popularity

19th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

The 2012 Bayou Classic pitting the Southern University Jaguars against the Grambling State University Tigers officially kicks off Tuesday with a press conference showcasing the many reasons the annual football game has been called the biggest Black college sporting event in the U.S. But anyone who has attended the annual game or any of its other events will tell you that it’s about much more than a fiercely fought college football game. With its celebration of two of the nation’s best college marching bands and a step show featuring Black greek-letter fraternities and sororities, not to mention a career fair, downtown parade, Gospel brunch and other events, the Bayou Classic brings together friends, families and former classmates.

The inaugural Bayou Classic was held in 1974 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans and has been held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome every year since then, with the exception of 2005. That year, the game was held in Houston’s Reliant Stadium because of Hurricane Katrina. The game returned to the Superdome in 2006.

Grambling State University won last year’s Bayou Classic 36-12, in a game that brought an estimated 250,000 visitors to the city over the Thanksgiving weekend and was nationally televised by the NBC network. The Bayou Classic has an estimated economic impact of $30 million on New Orleans.

Last year, the two schools split $1.32 million in proceeds from the series of Bayou Classic events. These proceeds provide support to the campuses’ athletic programs and fund scholarships through the SU System Foundation and the GSU Foundation.

When it was announced in July that State Farm would not serve as the game’s title sponsor after 2013, there was some confusion about the game’s future. Both sides have said the decision to end State Farm’s title sponsorship was amicable and that State Farm would move from title sponsor to presenting sponsor in 2012, would continue to run commercials during the nationally televised game, support Bayou Classic events and provide scholarships to area schools for 2012.

Despite its ongoing efforts to find a replacement title sponsor, Bayou Classic officials from both institutions have made it clear that the “Battle of the Cats” will not end anytime soon.

Although neither school is having a banner football season, Southern (3-7, 2-6 SWAC) ) has bounced back after firing its head coach, Stump Mitchell, earlier this season, and is looking to finish strong. Grambling (1-9, 0-8 SWAC) has struggled all season and finds itself in desperate need of a win to end its season on a positive note.

Tailgate Tour, an appearance by the popular comedian, talk-show host and actor who will be part of the pre-game Bayou Classic Fan Fest on Saturday, Nov. 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Smiley, who is best known for his comedic work as host of BET’s “Comic View,” as well as appearances on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” and “Snaps,” will be a new addition to the 39th Annual Bayou Classic in an effort to make the game and events more fan and family-friendly. Smiley, who also appeared in the hit comedy film Friday After Next, will be signing autographs and addressing the crowd at Fan Fest all in anticipation of his new radio show coming to New Orleans in January.

“We are excited to have Rickey Smiley join The Bayou Classic this year and we look forward to his appearance at Fan Fest,” said Dottie Belletto, President of New Orleans Convention Company, Inc., the management firm of The 39th Annual Bayou Classic. “In addition to the numerous other adjustments we’ve made this year, such as reduced ticket prices and our newly-released website, Rickey Smiley will be a tremendous addition to our weeklong series of events.”

One of last year’s most popular Bayou Classic events was the return of the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Parade, which featured some of the city’s high school marching bands and the famed Southern University Human Jukebox and GSU Tiger Marching Band.

Southern University and Grambling State University have launched a new program as part of The 39th Annual Bayou Classic to host a visiting band and dance team annually for the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade presented by State Farm®. Launched this year, the “Future of HBCU Talent” program recognizes one high school band and dance team from outside of Louisiana and provides them the opportunity to attend the weeklong series of Bayou Classic events and perform as part of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This year’s “Future of HBCU Talent” high school band is the Jacksonville Red Devils Marching Band from Jacksonville High School, a secondary public school located in Jacksonville, Arkansas. The award-winning marching band has been voted best band with the most spirit in Arkansas twice through a statewide poll.

This year’s “Future of HBCU Talent” dance team comes to the Bayou Classic from Memphis, TN. The Divas of Olive Branch Majorette Team will travel to New Orleans to be part of the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though The Divas of Olive Branch have won the most first place trophies than any other majorette team in Memphis, the main focus of the group is to give under privileged girls an opportunity to step away from their personal situations to learn teamwork, dedication, leadership, honesty, fellowship and showmanship.

The “Future of HBCU Talent” program was developed to recognize young talent outside of Louisiana. The program, launched in 2012, searches for outstanding talent to showcase their work as part of The Bayou Classic.

The complete schedule of Bayou Classic events follows:

Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012
• Thanksgiving Day Parade, 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Parade starts at Mercedes-Benz Superdome and ends at the French Market
Friday, Nov. 23, 2012
• Bayou Classic Golf Tourna­ment, 9:00 a.m. Joe Bartholomew Golf Course (Pontchartrain Park)
• HBCU Institute: Empower­ment Exchange Career & College Fair, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Hyatt Regency Hotel.
• Coaches Luncheon (By Invitation Only), 12 noon, Hyatt Regency Hotel.
• HBCU Institute, 2:00 p.m., Hyatt Regency Hotel.
• Welcome Reception (By Invitation Only), 6:00 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
• Battle of the Bands & Greek Show, 7:00 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012
• Bayou Classic Fan Fest, 10:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Champion Square.
• Bayou Classic, 1:30 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Doors open at 12:30 p/m. and kickoff at 1:30 p.m.).
Sunday, November 25, 2012
• Bayou Classic Gospel Brunch, 10:00 a.m., House of Blues.

This article originally published in the November 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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