CIAA announces big attractions

Football, Cross Country and Softball Championships headed to Salem

CONFERENCE: CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams is flanked on the dais by Salem Mayor Byron “Randy” Foley (l) and Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea as they answer questions at the 2017 CIAA Football Media Day held at Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center Thursday, July 20. – Photo by Lut Williams

by Lut Williams, Special to The Roanoke Tribune

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) returned to the Roanoke Valley last week for the first time following the successful staging of the conference’s football championship last November in Salem and for the first time since announcing last month a deal that will keep the title game here for another three years.

Administrators and staff from the league along with head coaches and two players from each of the conference’s 12 football-playing institutions converged on Roanoke’s Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center for three days of meetings culminating with last Thursday’s 2017 Football Media Day.

The Media Day is the official kickoff to this year’s football season that begins on August 27 and will end with the Nov. 11 Championship Game back at Salem Stadium. It was the first time the meetings and media event have been held in the area.
CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams was on hand along with Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea and Salem Mayor Byron “Randy” Foley. All three gave remarks at the end of the media sessions with coaches and players.

“The city of Salem did an exceptional job hosting last year’s football championship,” said McWilliams. “We were pleased with their support and welcoming spirit to host the competing teams, fans and sponsors and we are excited to bring the rich legacy and tradition of CIAA championships back to a city known for hosting top NCAA championships and who understands the value of serving its community through athletics.
“We are confident the city of Salem will continue to help us grow and expand our championship footprint.”

Lea, who was previously instrumental in bringing a matchup of CIAA football programs dubbed the Western Virginia Education Classic to the area, was a big booster in getting the CIAA to move its title game here. Lea attended and played football at CIAA member Virginia Union University. His son attended and played football at league member Virginia State University.
“I’m CIAA all the way,” Lea said in his remarks. “We are just proud to have a chance to again host this great event. There are a lot of CIAA and HBCU graduates in this area. I think it’s a win-win for everybody involved. There are a lot of people we have to thank for making this happen.”

South Division champ Winston-Salem State defeated North Division champ Bowie State 43-33 in an exciting championship game last year before a crowd of about 3,500 at the 7,100-seat Salem Stadium. Based on voting by league coaches and sports information directors, WSSU and BSU are favorites to meet for the championship again this season (see full report inside on the Black College Sports Page).

The game came to area last year after the North Carolina legislature passed the controversial HB2 Bill, known as the “Bathrooom Bill,” that caused a host of NCAA, ACC and other sporting events to move out of the state.

The CIAA, which hosts its popular men’s and women’s basketball tournament in Charlotte, had played the championship football game in Durham, N. C. the previous six years. Though the league’s Board of Directors decided not to move the basketball tournament, they did decide to move eight other championship events, including the football title contest, into Virginia. They settled on Salem for the gridiron championship with its over two decades long tradition of hosting NCAA Div. III football and basketball title games.

It was the first time the game was played outside of North Carolina since the CIAA re-instated the championship game in 2000.
This season, two other CIAA championships will be staged in the area, one in the fall and one in the spring.

The Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championship will come to Green Hill  Park in Salem on October 26, 2017. The Softball Championship will be staged at Moyer Park in Salem from April 30 to May 2, 2018.

The 2017 football season marks the 125th anniversary of football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) which began with two CIAA member institutions. On December 27, 1892, Livingstone College of Salisbury, N. C. hosted Johnson C. Smith University, then known as Biddle Memorial Institute in the first-ever gridiron matchup. The CIAA will honor its rich football history throughout the season including the use of a celebratory football championship logo leading up to the annual Commemorative Classic with Livingstone hosting J. C. Smith on Nov. 4.