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Soldier Field to host annual Chicago Football Classic

Soldier Field before the start of the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011.
Soldier Field will once again host the Chicago Football Classic. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Saturday’s Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field is the 20th edition of the annual game that was initially played in 1997. And for the first time since 1999, the game between historically black colleges and universities features the storied Grambling State Tigers as they face the Clark Atlanta University Panthers.

Anniversaries are cool and Grambling State brings a certain gravitas to the field and probably a few extra fans to the stands, but those aren’t the primary reasons this game is important.

“This is about more than football,” Larry Huggins, founder of the classic, said. “We can expose so many kids to the importance of seeking higher education through [the classic] while also boosting our economic impact and bringing tourists from all over the country to see this game.”

Students from around the city will be exposed to not just football players, but they will see the possibilities of what going to an HBCU can do for them. They’ll see it can lead to numerous types of careers and lives, and they can get on that path thanks to a college fair with around 30 HBCUs and local schools that will be held from 9 am-noon Saturday at the United Club inside Soldier Field.

“To me it is the most important piece,” Chicago Football Classic executive director Donna Hodge said. “You look at the building, the foundation is the most important piece, and the college fair is the foundation because this is all about education and the importance of education, especially at an HBCU school.”

Hodge said many of the schools at the fair will be ready and able to hand out conditional scholarships on the spot, so students are encouraged to bring their transcripts. Along with recruiters, students from the two universities will also be present to encourage interested students to come to HBCUs.

“I’ve found an invaluable community [at CAU],” Savannah West, a senior who will be at the college fair, said. “The classic supports higher education and academic achievement while showcasing the spirit and pride of our university.”

David Triche, a sophomore whose parents and other family members attended HBCUs, wants students to know that they can also have a great experience at CAU.

“I feel at home there — they really make me feel like part of the family,” Triche said. “Other students need to know they can have that, too.”

There is also an empowerment summit, where students and their families will be taught how to manage their money.

“It’s important for us to support development and growth of young people in Chicago which, we think, creates a better environment for all,” Corliss Garner, Senior Manager of BMO Harris Bank, a sponsor of the classic, said.

Hodge said that though many come for the game, students stay to learn about their college options.

“That’s been so popular that we repeat the seminar so that the students and families can get information and then there are people there that can speak to this after the seminar is over,” Hodge said. “We’re trying to be as well-rounded as possible to help the student and prepare the student as they get ready to go onto the next portion of their life, college life.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 pm. For more information, visit http://www.chicagofootballclassic.biz.

In brief

Forwards Conner Bleackley and Mackenzie MacEachern were assigned to the Wolves by the St. Louis Blues. Though the Vegas Golden Knights are the Wolves’ sole NHL partner, the Blues will still send some players to Rosemont this season.

Last season, Bleackley has 10 points in 45 games for the Wolves. MacEachern, meanwhile, appeared 55 times, and had five goals and six assists.

The Wolves’ two-game preseason opens at 7 p.m. Friday when they host Rockford at Triphahn Community Center & Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates. On Saturday, they visit the Milwaukee Admirals.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow