Chicago knows firsthand the importance of the Chicago Football Classic.
When Larry Huggins and twins Everett and Tim Rand co-founded the Classic in 1997, they did so to encourage black youth “to achieve their personal best in school and beyond.”
The Classic encourages students to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The game and events surrounding the Classic encouraged a prominent figure within the Chicago community to turn his attention to HBCUs when figuring out where he would attend college.
Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) had wanted to attend a Big Ten school. His thinking changed when his dad took him to the Classic while he was in high school.
Scott said being at the game allowed him to see what he could be and opened his mind to the possibility of attending an HBCU. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, which he made sure to mention is “one of the better HBCUs.”
“To see the quality of the game that was here, to see all the people and resources that this game put on, it changed my mind,” Scott said. “If you don’t see it, you can’t understand what it is. It’s imperative we bring young people to this game so they can not only see the quality that’s on the field, but also see the quality that goes into the academics and the scholarship portions of it.”
The 22nd annual Classic, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Soldier Field, looks to continue the tradition of exhibiting the importance of -HBCUs to the community while also showcasing one of its biggest -rivalries.
The Hampton Pirates will match up against the Howard Bison in a rivalry that sparks debates about which HU is better. And while the two universities will add another chapter to that debate on the field, their focus on academics will be emphasized during the Classic.
Hampton, in Hampton, Virginia, and Howard, in Washington, are two of the colleges that are considered part of the “Black Ivy League.” U.S. News & World Report listed the two universities as two of the top four HBCUs, along with Spelman in Atlanta and Xavier University in New Orleans.
“While this is a football game, I think the bigger story and the bigger message is the academic excellence that we’re going to provide, and the experience and commotion that comes along with being with higher-tiered academic schools in the country,” said Ariel V. Germain, an associate athletic director at Howard.
The Classic will host an HBCU college fair and is bringing back the career fair for this year’s game. The game’s push to highlight academics has caught the attention of local leaders and celebrities.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the Chicago Bears Foundation each will sponsor 1,000 students to attend the game. The Detroit Pistons’ Derrick Rose and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, both Chicago natives, will sponsor 4,000 students from Englewood.
Chicago natives and former NBA champions Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas will pay the cost of transportation to the game for certain students.
Aguirre said what brought him to the game was the fact that he wasn’t always aware of all the things that were going on surrounding the football game. He admitted he was embarrassed about the fact that as an African American athlete, he had no idea what was going on behind the scenes and how many great HBCU schools there were.
“It really ignited me to be more in-depth into what was going on,” Aguirre said. “We’re really making an effort to provide this event with transportation.
“It’s a time for us to bring this to light and not just let it stop today at the football game.”
Deion Harry (University Park) and Myles Thompson (Oak Park) are two of Howard’s three players from Illinois.
Former Bear David Terrell also admitted he was embarrassed when his son, David Terrell Jr., who’s a receiver at Howard and the lone Chicago native in the game, decided to attend Howard and the elder Terrell didn’t realize how prestigious the university is.
“It was very surprising and so eye-opening because I’m a Michigan man all the way out,” Terrell said. “I bleed blue. But now I bleed blue and red.”