Gary school teacher Angela Theus missed the Circle City Classic for the last year or two but won’t miss it this year. Theus plans to be in town Saturday for the annual fall gridiron clash which features underdog Alabama A&M University against its cross-state rival, Tuskegee University, the defending black college national champion.
But it’s not the football teams or the new Lucas Oil Stadium that Theus is coming to see. It’s the marching bands.
“We will probably talk through the game,” Theus said. “We go to see the halftime. We go to see the marching bands.”
Since its inception, the Circle City Classic was held in the RCA Dome. This is its first year in the newly opened Lucas Oil Stadium.
High-stepping drum majors, strutting horn sections, flamboyant drummers and twirling flag corps dancers in colorful outfits are traditions in black colleges, and alumni and fans take tremendous pride in them.
“We always know it is going to be a great show,” Theus said. “They are going to Show Up.”
Not only will Alabama A&M’s 210-member, Marching “Maroon and White” Band show up, it will show up with its A-game, said school director of bands Arthur Wesley.
“We are important to the university. We are ambassadors to the university and to the team,” Wesley said. “Each band will be exciting. It will be an excellent performance.”
There will be two performances Saturday, actually, not including the morning’s parade.
The Maroon and White and Tuskegee’s Marching Crimson Piper Band will perform an eight-minute set each during halftime and follow it up with another battle after the game ends.
“We are going to stick around for that, too,” Theus said.
The Alabama A&M marching band starts practice in mid-August and, between practice and games, will continue until December. The band practices for 90 minutes in the late afternoon and for two hours in the evening, five days a week. “It’s a grueling schedule but the students have to keep their academics in order,” Wesley said.
During the performance, the band is led by drum major Joshua Johnson, a junior who is in his second year as drum major. “He’s the leader on the field,” Wesley said.
Both marching band performances will be on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, said Circle City Classic Executive Director Tony Mason, who hopes to sell 50,000 tickets for the Classic.
“Half the people come to the game to see the teams and half come to see the bands,” said Mason. “There is a lot of excitement.”
The Big Game
The Circle City Classic each year highlights two of the nation’s top historically black colleges or universities in a weekend of activities centering on the football game. This year will mark Alabama A&M’s third appearance in the Circle City Classic but is the first for Tuskegee.
“We have been trying to get them for years,” Mason said.
The Tuskegee Tigers, the winners of Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s 2007 Black College Championship, are coming off an undefeated season last year and extended that unbeaten streak through at least four games this year. They were scheduled to face off against Fort Valley State University last week.
Tuskegee is in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and is led by All-American quarterback Jacary Atkinson.
In the team’s 42-7 win against Stillman on Sept. 20, Atkinson threw 36 times with 19 receptions and two interceptions. He had 362 passing yards and led the team to 620 total offensive yards.
Of Atkinson, head coach Willie Slater said, “He’s a special player. He’s fun to watch.”
Alabama A&M, which is in the Southern Athletic Conference, hasn’t played Tuskegee in 10 years. The Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season but beat Central State 37-17 on Sept. 20. They were scheduled to play the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff last weekend.
Down 10-7 at the half, the Bulldog defense took charge in the second half. With only four quarterback sacks in the first three games of the season, the Bulldog defense sacked the Central State quarterback seven times. Jeremy Maddox and Marcus Powe tallied two sacks each.
On the offense, the team had 453 yards on 54 plays.
Though the teams look a little mismatched, Mason said he expected a fierce game.
Mason also noted that this is The Classic’s 25th anniversary.
The first game was in 1984 when wide receiver Jerry Rice led Mississippi Valley State University over Grambling State University, 48-36. Marking the anniversary this year, Rice, a future NFL Hall of Famer as the league’s all-time leading pass receiver, will serve as grand marshal of the American Family Insurance Classic Parade on Saturday. He will also be honored on Friday with the Chase Major Taylor Award at the Indianapolis Colts Classic Coaches Luncheon.
The Classic, which is organized by the Indiana Sports Corporation, is a fundraiser for the Indiana Black Expo and is one of its two signature events each year. Back in the early 1980s, there was a great deal of skepticism about the Circle City Classic because Indianapolis is a northern city and most historically black colleges and universities are in the South and the nearest HBCU is roughly four hours away.
Skeptics said as few as 5,000 people would attend, thus making the event’s long-term future financially unfeasible
But there are lots of black college alumni in the state and in the Midwest, Mason said. Some 10,000 people attended the first game, and the event was an immediate success.
The first sold-out game was in 1990 and some 49,000 people attended in 2002, when Robert Mathis, who now plays defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts, had four sacks for Alabama A&M when the Bulldogs defeated Southern University, 27-11.
“That we are surviving and thriving is significant,” said Mason.
25th Anniversary Circle City Classic
Saturday, October 4, 2008
When: 10 a.m.
Where: Downtown Indianapolis
(Pennsylvania and Meridian Streets between North and Ohio)
What: Alabama A&M v.s Tuskegee
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium
See www.circlecityclassic.com for full schedule; firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 237-5222