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A case of David meets Goliath on the gridiron

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When Jackson State University and Kentucky State University meet at this year’s Circle City Classic Sept. 28, it will be a metaphorical David and Goliath matchup as Division II Kentucky State takes on the much larger Division I Jackson State.

However, true fans know the Circle City Classic is not just another football game. Between the pageantry and excited alumni who attend, the Circle City Classic is a celebration of HBCUs.

“Those institutions have been educating our people, African Americans more specifically, for over 100 years,” Darryl Peal, managing director of external engagement and strategic partnerships at the NCAA, said. “They are part of the very foundation and the success of African American professionals and intellectuals.”

Jackson State University

The American Baptist Home Mission Society founded Jackson State University in 1877. Back then the school’s name was Natchez Seminary, and it was located in Natchez, Mississippi. The goal was to provide newly freed slaves from Mississippi and neighboring states with a religious education. The school moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1882 and became Jackson State College in 1899. Jackson State College changed its name to Jackson State University in 1979. Today Jackson State is a state-sponsored public university with a mission of training diverse leaders.

With almost 10,000 students, Jackson State is not only a Division I school but also Mississippi’s fourth largest college. NFL Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Robert Brazile are part of the university’s proud football history. Jackson State previously competed in four Circle City Classics — the last appearance a loss to Florida A&M University in 2003. John Hendrick, head football coach at Jackson State, believes the Classic is a good way to give his players a new experience. 

“Over half our team has never flown on a plane before,” Hendrick said. “… It’s big for them to have an opportunity to see things they haven’t seen, go places they haven’t been and compete in a football game in a pro football stadium.” 

Kentucky State University

Kentucky State University has its roots in an 1885 conference of Kentucky political leaders. They discussed ways to improve the state and decided it needed an institution to train African American teachers. In 1887, The State Normal School for Colored Persons opened with three teachers and 55 students in Frankfort. Like Jackson State, the university underwent a few name changes before becoming Kentucky State University. The name changed to Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons in 1902; Kentucky State Industrial College for Colored Persons in 1926; Kentucky State College for Negroes in 1938; and Kentucky State in 1952. Today the school has 135 full-time faculty members and 55 undergraduate degrees ranging from computer science to mass communication and is a Division II School with just under 2,000 students. It might be smaller than Jackson State, but Kentucky State’s win over Robert Morris University, a non-HBCU Division I private university, earlier this season proves it can compete against larger opponents. In addition, Kentucky State is no stranger to the Classic. It competed in five Circle City Classics — 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 — beating Central State University each time.

 “Our guys know they have an opportunity in front of them to do something that Kentucky State has never done in the history of the university, and that is to defeat two Division I teams in one year,” Charlie Jackson, head football coach at Kentucky State, said. 

Celebrating the culture

Before the game there will be celebrations of HBCU history and culture. First, the NCAA will reveal a new HBCU exhibit in its headquarters at the NCAA Classic Coaches Luncheon Sept. 27. Before the game, there will be a parade with floats, marching bands and celebrities including Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams. Korey Wise, one of the Exonerated Five, will be the grand marshal. 

During halftime Jackson State and Kentucky State will face off in another competition: the Circle City Classic Battle of the Bands. ESPN’s official HBCU band rankings lists Jackson State as number one among all Division I HBCUs, and Kentucky State is a finalist in HBCU Digest’s yet to be decided 2019 Best Marching Band Reward. With two acclaimed bands going head to head, many fans are looking forward to the musical performances as much as the football game.

“You can’t listen to a HBCU band and not want to move and get up,” Tracey Bush, a Kentucky State alumni said. “A HBCU band is incomparable. The excitement of the band is just as exciting as the football game.”

For alumni, the Classic is also a chance to reconnect with old friends they haven’t seen since college. For example, Kentucky State alumni will host several get togethers at The Alexander hotel, and Jackson State alumni will attend a tailgate at Lucas Oil Stadium before the game.

“Come out and experience the HBCU love,” Bush said. “At the end of the day no matter which team wins, it’s still all about HBCU love.”

The Circle City Classic is an important event for future students as well as past students. There are more HBCUs in the South than the Midwest, so Joseph Phillips, a Jackson State alumni, said many local prospective students don’t think about HBCUs as an option for college. The Circle City Classic exposes youth to HBCU culture and can encourage them to attend one. The event also raises money for students to attend HBCUs.

“Seeing the band, watching the team play and seeing the atmosphere of how former students and alumni have come together at this particular game, it will cause them to want to find out more about the institution and also find out who the alumni in this area are,” Phillips said. 

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.


Circle City Classic 2019

There’s plenty of activities centered around historically Black colleges and universities during Circle City Classic weekend.


Indianapolis Black Alumni Council 40th annual HBCU College Fair

The Indianapolis Black Alumni Council is hosting a college fair where students can meet with representatives from HBCUs around the country.

When: 6-9 p.m. Sept. 26

Where: Crispus Attucks High School, 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

Register: ibacindy.com/hbcu-college-fair


Circle City Classic Parade 

When: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sept. 28

Route: Vermont Street, Pennsylvania Street, Ohio Street, Meridian Street and ends on New York Street

Price: Free


Parade Broadcast

Unable to make it to the parade? Watch the broadcast 1-3 p.m. Sept. 28 on WHMB TV-40. It will be on channels 9 and 1040 for Comcast subscribers, channels 22 and 1022 for Spectrum subscribers, and channels 40 and 1040 for Dish Network and AT&T U-verse subscribers. 

Education Day Party

Before the football game, representatives from HBCUs and non-HBCU colleges will be available to speak with middle and high school students about educational opportunities.

When: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 28

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, 500 S. Capitol Ave.

Price: Free with purchase of a ticket to the Circle City Classic


Circle City Classic 

When: 3 p.m. Sept. 28

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, 500 S. Capitol Ave.

Price: $10-$25, visit circlecityclassic.com/get-tickets, or call 317-923-3037.

Jackson State University and Kentucky State University will meet at the 2019 Circle City Classic.

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