Alumni Stories: A respectful rivalry
Delores Chisley: N.C. A&T, class of 1973
I’m coming up on my 50th college reunion next May. I’m a native Charlottean who was educated in segregated schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Although I graduated from Myers Park in 1969, I spent the first nine years in segregated elementary and junior high schools. I wound up at Myers Park when the integration solution was to close Black schools and bus us to white schools.
So, imagine my early years when all my teachers were Black and all attended HBCUs. The rivalry was intense, and there was always friendly banter among the schools: Johnson C Smith, TC – Teachers College (now Winston-Salem State University), Livingstone, A&T College and NC Central. All of these schools were in the CIAA, so there was always sports talk, particularly when I was in junior high. My mother and father (both deceased) were Aggies. My mother took us to football games and basketball games all the time. So, when I was accepted into NC A&T, I already knew about the sports interactions.
I’ll get to the rivalry at some point, but the background sets the stage. In the spring of 1969, A&T’s campus was “invaded” by the National Guard after an incident at Dudley High Schools spilled over onto the A&T Campus. An A&T student was killed and the school year ended abruptly. My older sister, a freshman at A&T, came home with just the clothes on her back. All the students were sent home (or away from campus) and left their belongings.
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So, when I entered in the fall of 1969, there was still tension in the Greensboro community and bullet holes in the side of Scott Hall, the main men’s dorm. But our family history was such that A&T was the logical choice – maybe the only choice.
Everything we did was centered on campus. We didn’t have cars; it was just nine years after the 1960 sit-Ins at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, so the campus was the center of our world. Given that, I went to all the football games and basketball games. One game against N.C. Central was called the Thanksgiving Classic, held the Saturday before Thanksgiving week. Most of the time, it was not only a battle for victory but for the CIAA championship. We always packed the stands at A&T. (I didn’t go to Durham because I didn’t have a car.) I’d go early because seating was limited, and we packed in shoulder-to-shoulder for the gridiron brawl. A victory meant you had bragging rights for a whole year. Back then we also rivaled Johnson C. Smith and Winston-Salem State. Family-wise, households typically had a husband and wife from Central, Smith, TC, or A&T. It just worked out that way.
The rivalry didn’t end just on the football field and basketball court. In 1993, I was elected national president of the N.C. A&T Alumni Association. My NCCU nemesis was the late Roger Gregory, his school’s national president. He was the consummate gentleman, always dressed in a gray suit with a burgundy tie and hanky. So, as the rivalry went beyond sports, the N.C. legislature approved the college license plates. Roger and I challenged each other to get the 300 initial paid plates for the plate to be produced. We bet a dinner. A&T won, and the dinner was never held, but it didn’t matter. We can always find something to challenge each other on.
I attend Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, where many of our members went to the schools mentioned above and other HBCUs. Before any Aggie-Eagle game, there’s a lot of trash talking, even on church grounds. However, on Sunday morning, if A&T wins, Central folks play hide and go seek. They’ll be waiting for me in the parking lot if they win! It’s all in fun, but that competitive spirit will never die.
I can say that neither of us could challenge each other on our loyalty to our alma maters. While this event is a football game, our loyalty and spirit go far beyond that. It’s about getting the best and the brightest to attend our alma mater. It’s about supporting the scholarship gala or fundraiser to ensure we have funds to support students from our community going to our respective universities. This year’s Duke’s Mayo Classic game will be like Homecoming for each of us, just against each other. That’s why this Classic, in a larger venue in a neutral place, has garnered so much interest and kicks the rivalry into high gear. And, it kicks off our football seasons.
Yes, we’ll be here in our colors and trash talk before the game, but one side will be hiding at the end of the game. We will have earned bragging rights for another year!
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