Game #9-433: Florida A&M Rattlers at North Carolina A&T AggiesFebruary 11, 2013 8:00 pm
Corbett Sports Center
The 26 closest Division I schools to me are in this order from nearest to furthest based on miles away as the crow flies: South Carolina, South Carolina State, Charleston Southern, Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, The Citadel, College of Charleston, Presbyterian, Charlotte, Davidson, Wofford, USC Upstate, Gardner-Webb, Georgia Southern, Furman, Savannah State, Campbell, High Point, UNC Wilmington, Clemson, UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina, Elon, and North Carolina State. Of that list, North Carolina A&T was the only school I had not yet seen play in their home venue. North Carolina A&T is just over three hours away, which is not a drive I would typically make from South Carolina. My preference was to pair a North Carolina A&T game with a High Point game on a Saturday. But with the Aggies typically playing in the late afternoon, getting from Greensboro to High Point would not be easy. Of course at one time as recently as five years ago, I was within a 30 minute drive of North Carolina A&T when I lived at High Point. But in my four years there, I never made it to North Carolina A&T. In one year I cleaned up all of South Carolina's Division I schools. But I never cleaned up the list of Division I schools in High Point's home county. Why? Even without being able to pair it up with another game locally, I would still have to make that drive to North Carolina A&T. And with A&T being the closest Division I school to me playing this Monday, this would be the time to go.
I have mentioned on here before
the reasons why I never went to North Carolina A&T. North Carolina A&T is a HBCU with over 90 percent of its student body being African-American, which I am not. It is not that I disliked going to a place with a different culture from my own, far from it as I enjoy new cultural experiences and have experience with black culture coming from a city that is 50 percent African-American. My main source of discomfort in going to a North Carolina A&T game was that I would be an outsider. And I have mentioned before that if you are seen as an outsider in our society, you get treated differently
. This was the case at Division II Newberry (which is not a HBCU), where football fans accused me of spying on their team for no reason other than I had a notebook and camera with me. My worry in attending a HBCU game was that because I am white I would quickly stand out to people at North Carolina A&T as being someone from outside their community. It was not because I thought I would have a bad time otherwise, or that there would be some sort of "race war" going on. It is was more that I could be quickly identified as being from outside the school's community, and possibly considered "suspicious". And American society can get way too suspicious of others, regardless of what group is getting suspicious of what other group.
The other thing I was aware of was that the Aggies (at least back when I was at HPU) typically led the MEAC in attendance. It was not quite like at S.C. State, where everybody has plenty of room. I was not even sure that a ticket would always be that easy on certain nights. I probably would have gotten to a North Carolina A&T game eventually, but part of the great thing about High Point's location is that there was always a lot of options going on. When I wanted to get to a college basketball game, my priorities were as follows:
1. High Point Men
2. High Point Women
3. UNC Greensboro Men
4. Elon Men
5. ACC women (occasionally ACC men's game if tickets were available and affordable)
So with those options in mind, there was little room for North Carolina A&T. I felt uncomfortable going there, and could easily find other games. For that matter, I barely ever got to Davidson (75 minutes away) and Charlotte (90 minutes away) and never got to Appalachian State (two hours away) when I was at High Point even though I make those drives all the time now in South Carolina. When I was a freshman, High Point had a game at North Carolina A&T but to mine and others' dismay there was no student bus trip (today there almost certainly would be one). The school gave directions to the A&T campus to interested HPU students, but at that time all I had was a bicycle so I wasn't going to make it there. I did see three baseball games at North Carolina A&T, the only sporting events I attended there when at High Point. Both were in my junior year, once against High Point and then later on a doubleheader against Coppin State when Coppin was on the cusp of one of the worst ever Division I baseball seasons at 0-44. As I have mentioned before, when I researched the history of Greensboro politics for my senior project at HPU I found that one adviser of the North Carolina A&T students participating in the famous Greensboro sit-ins was a white man who had become familiar with the black community of Greensboro in part because of attending basketball games at North Carolina A&T. At one point I did have a North Carolina A&T basketball game on my planned schedule of games to go to, but ended up cutting that out to catch up on school work that evening. So the time had finally come to go to a game there.
The best reason to go to any basketball arena is something Ray Curren mentioned when attending Coppin State
, "because they exist". And because North Carolina A&T exists and was the closest school to me in Division I I had not seen, it was time to go. When I was at High Point, I did not have that mindset. Why I did not is a mystery to me, as the reason I wanted a camera for my 20th birthday was to have something to take pictures of stadiums with. I did make a note of where I had been as well at the time. But I never really tried to pursue finding new arenas and stadiums for the sake of doing so at the time, most likely because I thought such a task would be difficult. But the difficulty in completing the task always means that there is something new to do. There will always be a closest place I have not been to, and it is up to me to find time to go there. I had always had that frame of mind when I did geocaching and tried to clean up the closest caches to me. And it was that frame of mind that led me to create a project of going to all 23 Division I and II basketball arenas in South Carolina after I graduated from High Point. When I told my mom about that plan, one of her responses was, "You're not actually going to Benedict, are you?" (Benedict is a Division II HBCU in Columbia that is much more out of the general public view than the MEAC schools are, and usually has less than 50 white students out of a total enrollment of about 2500). My mom also had the same reaction to me going to the Citadel, due to misconceptions that the Citadel would be run in a hyper Southern military kind of way that would also be unfriendly to outsiders (I explained that I did not expect that to be the case any more than at the American Legion baseball games I went to locally growing up). My response was always that I could not exclude certain schools for the project to be complete, as there is no acceptable reason to not see everybody
. And now I had seen all kinds of different places in my travels, so North Carolina A&T should not be much different than other places I have been to before. You should always look to go outside your comfort zone, because then your comfort zone will expand.
Of course, that is not to say that there aren't challenges as a first-time visitor. I was pleasantly surprised to see that North Carolina A&T's access on and off the highways around the Piedmont Triad was better than most of their neighboring schools. But once I got on campus, it became a challenge. The entrance to the street in front of Corbett Sports Center was blocked off, so I looped the entire campus looking for a place to park. I saw a parking garage that charged a dollar per hour, but figured I could do better for a MEAC game. But of course I was not sure, and did not know where to go without signs pointing to general parking. Once I looped back to the street Corbett Sports Center is on, I asked a couple students where to park, and they pointed to the left of "the big white building" (which turned out to be the arena). Once I got there, I found a parking attendant setting up special spaces for those invited by the chancellor. I asked him where general parking was, and he said "anywhere in the back, as long as it does not say reserved". I looked around, saw some numbered spaces but did not say reserved. I finally came to the back with lots of reserved spaces, but finally saw one that said "Visitor". The instructions included getting a special visitor permit, so I walked back to the parking attendant to ask if I was okay. He was more busy talking on his cell phone, and shrugged me off quickly with a "Yes". I probably should have know I was okay, as both S.C. State and other schools have numbered spaces that you cannot park in during the daytime but are allowed for special events at night. But as a rookie to attending Corbett Sports Center, I was a bit unsure considering that North Carolina A&T is an urban campus.
Once I got inside, I found what Stadium Journey referred to as "a very unremarkable venue"
. Corbett Sports Center is a pretty basic venue for North Carolina A&T's indoor sports, which includes a swimming pool on the other side of the ticket office (as does High Point, which does not have a swimming team though as North Carolina A&T does). My ticket cost $15, which was $5 less than what Matt Cayuela paid for a rivalry game against North Carolina Central
. That's still too expensive for me for basketball under the Red Line, as I feel that mid-major basketball should not cost more than $10 unless it is for a big game or for a good seat. Most of the seats inside are above the concourse area in bleachers that look like they were taken from my high school's gym. Corbett Sports Center is fairly big for a mid-major arena at 5,700, but is not as modern as most newer college basketball arenas today. That seems to be often the case with HBCU facilities (particularly in the SWAC, which often have large capacities but are generally not highly regarded otherwise). Of course, the main attraction to North Carolina A&T as the Stadium Journey article points out is the atmosphere at Corbett Sports Center. The Aggie fans are known for being loud and boisterous in a unique way as they pack Corbett Sports Center. I have written about a similar phenomenon at South Carolina State, which involves much of the same dancing and rhythm to the music being played by the band
. Certainly it would be much better here than at S.C. State, which has a bad basketball team and an average attendance just under 1,000 right?
But as Matt said in his experience here, the phenomenon here really does not blow you away. Some fans can get excited, although you think there would have been more with the game here being close. Attendance was 1800 for this game, so it seems that North Carolina A&T might be in jeopardy of losing some of their tradition of great fan support. The Aggies were able to keep that tradition going from the 1980s (when they had the top program in the MEAC) through the early 2000s (when the Aggies were just as lowly as S.C. State is today). I think some of Corbett Sports Center's reputation for a great atmosphere comes from either people who have little experience going to HBCUs, or that North Carolina A&T's support has dwindled since their peak. Most likely, it is some of both. North Carolina A&T has their own team of students in the stands who lead various dances, which all gives it a kind of forced feel rather than being spontaneous. It seemed that most of the people I saw at the game were there because it was the thing to do on campus, rather than any real interest in the game or the atmosphere that this place is known for.
And the atmosphere was even more scaled back for the preceding women's game. North Carolina A&T's band was there for the entire game, but they weren't there during warm-ups. The cheerleaders did not show up until the second half of the women's game, and the A&T dance team didn't even bother until it was time for the men's game. And a fairly large portion of the crowd did not show up until it was almost halftime of the men's game. The women's game did not have a lot going for it aside from a good showing by the home team. The Aggie women jumped out to a big lead late in the first half and coasted the entire second half as they won comfortably 69-50. Neither team really bothered to foul or take timeouts, leading the game to be over rather quickly. The women's game, which started promptly at 6 P.M. as scheduled, finished at 7:28. The start time for the men's game was listed as 8, although that can often be pushed back to around 8:15 with the women's game before it. But with a super fast women's game, the men's game started at 7:55, five minutes before it was scheduled to start!
Perhaps that is why so many fans arrived after tip-off. The crowd was pretty transient in the arena during the first half of the men's game before settling in for the second half. Here is the final score of the women's game, right next to a McDonald's advertisement labeled "Black365". That kind of advertising by McDonald's directed towards African-Americans reminds me of this satirical online sketch
The men's game started out very slow in terms of offense. Prior to the first media timeout, there had been no field goals as the Aggies led 2-0 off of Bruce Beckford free throws. But the game would pick up after that. The Rattlers of FAMU led 20-15 seven minutes before the half before the home team finished the half on a 15-6 run to make it 30-26 North Carolina A&T at halftime. It had not been a particularly great game in the first half between two mediocre MEAC teams. Both teams struggled in shooting the ball, as both the Rattlers and Aggies were under 40 percent from the field in the first half. For the most part, it was a run of the mill game in front of a run of the mill crowd that as mentioned was still filing in. But unlike the women's game it was close, and that would set the stage for a quality second half.
For halftime, it was another foreign acrobat team, Matt mentioned seeing a stunt team from Argentina, and here we had a Russian team. North Carolina A&T also announced similar promotions later on in the season as well, so they seem pretty solid in drawing halftime shows to go with the basketball game. This Russian team involved two men holding up what looked like a trampoline balance beam while a woman performed stunts off of it. The team looked better when they performed in the women's game; there were a few slip-ups at halftime of the men's game as they got tired later in the routine. But it was still a pretty good show.
The see-sawing balance trampoline contraption device they had seemed to be a good metaphor for the second half as both teams went back and forth in getting the momentum and jumping forward. Initially it looked like Florida A&M would get the better of it, as a 14-2 run put the Rattlers up eight with 15 minutes left. But A&T countered with a 19-7 run to go up by four with seven minutes left. Both teams played the final seven minutes cautiously and slowed down as neither team got the momentum. North Carolina A&T continued to hold on to a slight lead that never seemed quite safe. A Trey Kellum dunk cut the NC A&T lead to one with a minute left that seemed to set up an exciting finish. But whatever momentum North Carolina A&T got from the crowd carried them as that final minute would belong to them. The big basket was a superhoop by Jeremy Underwood just before the shot clock expired to give the Aggies a four point lead with just over 30 seconds left. The Rattlers could not respond and North Carolina A&T made their free throws to close out a 64-56 win. The crowd appreciated the result and it was the first time in a while I had seen a MEAC team win at home given S.C. State's recent struggles.
Maybe the experience at the Corbett Sports Center of North Carolina A&T is not what it was made to be, as both Matt and I have witnessed. Most likely it seems that the big crowds have quickly faded on the east side of Greensboro. North Carolina A&T averaged 4,040 fans per game seven years ago, which is nearly twice what the Aggies are averaging right now. But I am glad I finally got to a game here. Why? Because I should have come here a long time ago. I could have seen the peak of "Aggie Pride". While it is a bit expensive for a low key mid-major game, it is still worth coming here if you are traveling through North Carolina if for no another reason but the rich history of a school that played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. And maybe both Matt and I came on the wrong nights, and you might still find a good crowd here. It really is not any better an experience than at S.C. State, but part of that is because the S.C. State experience is still pretty good. North Carolina A&T is basically the SCSU of North Carolina. And maybe the basketball at North Carolina A&T is not much better either, as S.C. State five days later would finally end their MEAC losing streak that stretched out for nearly two years by beating the Aggies in Orangeburg. But for me, it was another arena to check off on my list of places I have needed to visit. The closest Division I school to me that I still have not visited is now North Carolina Central, which I hope to get to before the end of next season if I am still living in the Carolinas. There will always be new places and experiences to see, and I should never feel uncomfortable about pursuing those visits.
at NORTH CAROLINA A&T 64, FLORIDA A&M 56
FLORIDA A&M 6-18 (3-7) -- R. Lewis 3-8 0-0 7; J. Adams 5-15 1-1 13; M. Abdul-Aleem 6-10 2-2 16; M. Teal 3-4 3-5 9; J. Bradshaw 1-5 2-2 5; W. Davis 0-1 0-0 0; T. Kellum 2-4 0-0 4; O. Odi 1-3 0-0 2; M. Badejo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-50 8-10 56.
NORTH CAROLINA A&T 13-12 (6-4) -- A. Witter 3-8 2-4 8; A. Powell 4-11 1-2 11; J. Underwood 2-6 2-2 8; L. Middleton 4-8 2-6 10; J. Louisme 2-9 0-0 5; B. Beckford 5-10 6-6 16; D. Upchurch 2-3 0-3 4; L. Smith 0-1 2-2 2; R. Buck 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 15-25 64.
Three-point goals: FAMU 6-23 (R. Lewis 1-5; M. Abdul-Aleem 2-3; J. Adams 2-10; J. Bradshaw 1-3; T. Kellum 0-2), NCAT 5-19 (A. Powell 2-5; A. Witter 0-2; J. Underwood 2-4; J. Louisme 1-5; L. Middleton 0-3); Rebounds: FAMU 25 (M. Teal 7), NCAT 34 (A. Witter 13); Assists: FAMU 7 (J. Adams 4), NCAT 10 (A. Witter 3); Total Fouls -- FAMU 20, NCAT 11; Fouled Out: FAMU-None; NCAT-None.
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