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NCAA celebrates HBCU football teams at Circle City Classic luncheon

More than 160 student-athletes from Bethune-Cookman and Howard welcomed to national office

The NCAA office of external engagement and strategic partnerships welcomed more than 160 student-athletes when it hosted the football teams from Bethune-Cookman and Howard at the NCAA national office for Indiana Black Expo’s Circle City Classic luncheon in Indianapolis.

The luncheon included both teams, its coaches, university and athletic conference officials, NCAA and Indiana Black Expo staff, and Indianapolis community members. This marked the first time the luncheon spotlight was placed directly on the student-athletes, who also received encouraging words from keynote speakers. Each year, Classic weekend includes the historically black colleges and universities football game at Lucas Oil Stadium, the luncheon, a parade, musical entertainment and other festivities that center on the culture and pageantry of HBCUs.

“We were thrilled to have the Bethune-Cookman University and Howard University football student-athletes attend the luncheon at the NCAA national office, as it provided us with the opportunity to celebrate their academic excellence and overall achievements,” said Katrice Albert, NCAA executive vice president of inclusion and human resources. “The student-athletes are exceeding in the classroom. They are leaders on their campuses and in their communities, and they are role models for future generations. Having them at the headquarters allowed our staff and the Indianapolis community the opportunity to applaud them in person while recognizing their academic and athletic achievements.”

In addition to recognizing the game, Albert emphasized the importance of academic excellence by highlighting the NCAA’s Accelerated Academic Success Program, which provides grants for eligible schools and assists them with developing programs and systems to increase graduation rates and ensure academic success. Bethune-Cookman is a recipient of an AASP grant. 

Darryl Peal, NCAA managing director of external engagement and strategic partnerships in the inclusion and human resources division, managed the NCAA’s sponsorship of the Circle City Classic luncheon and other related activities. Peal also supervises the AASP and will work closely with HBCU schools.

“This was a great time to highlight the accomplishments and importance of historically black colleges and universities and the student-athletes at Bethune-Cookman University and Howard University who are making positive strides academically and athletically every day,” Peal said. 

“Everyone is familiar with the Circle City Classic and enjoys the pageantry associated with the football game. We wanted to applaud these outstanding student-athletes while they were in Indianapolis and visiting the NCAA and its Hall of Champions. HBCUs are doing great things on the competitive fields, but let’s remember that HBCU schools are also helping student-athletes succeed in the classroom en route to graduation.”

The student-athletes also emphasized the opportunities football has provided.

 “Playing football has provided me with a scholarship and a free education,” said Caylin Newton, a sophomore quarterback and sports management major at Howard. “As long as you get your degree … that’s what is most important. Howard is an extremely prestigious school — not just as an HBCU but with all schools. It just means a lot to go to a school of this nature.”

The Bethune-Cookman and Howard football teams enjoyed some down time after the luncheon at the NCAA Hall of Champions, which is the NCAA’s public museum that celebrates its 24 sports and 90 championships.

“My family was able to get tickets to the Classic, so I’m excited as this is my first time playing at home since high school,” said Dwayne Brown, a senior offensive lineman and health and exercise science major at Bethune-Cookman who graduated from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. “Classic has always been a fun event for me and my family. It’s an honor to be here representing Bethune-Cookman and to represent my school in my hometown.”

Also getting recognition during the luncheon was former Indianapolis Colts and University of Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson, who earned the Expo’s 2018 Major Taylor Award. Jackson shared inspirational messages about life after football and encouraged the football athletes and community to “dream, believe and achieve,” which is his motto for accomplishing goals in life. 

Bethune-Cookman head football coach Terry Sims and Howard head football coach Mike London also gave remarks. Howard closed the weekend by beating Bethune-Cookman 41-35 in the Classic to earn its first win of the season.