When the Mobile Sports Authority (MSA) reintroduced historically black college and university (HBCU) football to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, it was an immediate success. In its 2016 debut, the 5th Quarter Classic attracted more than 19,000 fans for a clash between Tuskegee and Florida A&M.

Those five days of concerts, alumni festivals and parades had an estimated economic impact of $6,480,000, MSA’s largest return during the fiscal year. In addition, more than $2 million in scholarship offers went to area youth.

Tuskegee returned in 2017 to face Jackson State in another successful 5th Quarter Classic. The back-to-back outpouring of support proved HBCU contests had found a home in Mobile.

Now, MSA and area sponsors are ready to take the next step with the Gulf Coast Challenge, as announced recently in a news conference at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

“This game will replace the 5th Quarter Classic,” Danny Corte, MSA executive director, said in an interview with Lagniappe. “It got HBCU football reintroduced to Mobile. Now we will have locally based promoters putting on this game. I am very excited to be announcing this new event.”

The Gulf Coast Challenge is set for Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. when Southern University plays Alabama A&M.

“This will be the ultimate HBCU experience,” said Tim Hale Jr., the game’s director. “The organizers are embedded in the city of Mobile, so we want it to be great.”

Among the events he listed are a free kickoff concert, college and career fair, team and alumni luncheon, golf tournament, Mardi Gras-style parade and a tailgate experience at Ladd-Peebles Stadium that will include a second line parade leading into the game.

Several local political leaders were present to offer their support.

“The more I head about this game, I’ve been told they will fill the stadium,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “That would be really cool to have 40,000 football fans here in Mobile.”

“I am thrilled to welcome Southern University and their Human Jukebox Band,” Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson said. “And I know A&M will be well represented with their great fan base. This is going to be a fun time.”

C.J. Small was present to represent the City Council. “While this is Levon Manzie’s district, he was under the weather. However, he wanted me to share the City Council’s excitement. All I can say is, ‘Let the good times roll!’”

Representing the schools were Southern University’s Athletic Director Roman Banks and Head Coach Dawson Odums, along with Alabama A&M’s Athletic Director Bryan Hicks and Head Coach Connell Maynor. A game mascot named “Mardi” — dressed as a jester — was also introduced.

Organizers hope the game will attract new teams every year. For more information, visit www.TheGulfCoastChallenge.com or call 251-281-8202.

Swinney to speak at UM event
Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney is the keynote speaker for the 13th annual University of Mobile Scholarship Banquet on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Swinney, the former Crimson Tide wide receiver from Pelham and an outspoken Christian, will headline the gala event that begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.

General admission tickets cost $150. Sponsorships begin at $1,500 and may include an opportunity to meet Swinney during a VIP reception prior to the banquet, with priority seating at the event.

“Coach Swinney’s life story and his insights into football and faith are inspirational, and we look forward to an uplifting and exciting event,” said Lauren McCaghren, senior director for alumni programs and annual giving.
The evening will include performances by students from the Alabama School of the Arts at UM and feature highlights of recent university accomplishments and upcoming plans.

Sponsorships and general admission tickets are available at umobile.edu/banquet, by phone through the UM Advancement Office at 251-442-2587 or via email to advancement@umobile.edu.

College briefs
• Spring Hill College men’s soccer has announced its spring schedule. The opening game sees the Badgers host UM at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23. SHC will travel to Hattiesburg on March 10 for games with William Carey University and Southwest Mississippi Community College. On March 17, the Badgers will play Faulkner University and the University of Montevallo at Montevallo, before participating in a 7v7 tournament hosted by Millsaps College on April 7. The two final games of the spring semester feature a trip to Pensacola on April 14 to take on the University of West Florida and Pensacola Christian College.

• The University of South Alabama’s Chyna Ellis has been named the Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week for the second time. The senior center had a historic night against Coastal Carolina as she earned the program’s first triple-double since 1989, collecting 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks.

Ellis became the all-time block leader in SBC history by surpassing Kaetlyn Murdoch’s mark of 279. Her 10 rejections were a career high and set the individual Mitchell Center record for blocks in a game. She also collected 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a win over Appalachian State.

• For the second time this season, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has named Spring Hill’s Jewel Hill its Women’s Basketball Player of the Week. During a two-game win streak, the senior guard out of St. Luke’s Episcopal shot 17-of-32 from the field and 6-of-8 from behind the arc as well as 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. Hill also finished the week with 19 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.

• Two members of the USA men’s basketball team have been honored as Sun Belt Players of the Week. Junior Rodrick Sikes won the first honor after averaging more than 26 points per game during two straight wins. Sophomore Josh Ajayi was recognized after he averaged 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in two other wins.