When an HBCU Comes to Town

image.png

By Preston Adams, FCS Fans Nation Contributor

Since the FCS Kickoff game happens to be a clash of the Gamecocks of JSU and the Aggies of NC A&T, I have decided to shed a little light on one of my favorite things about college football, when an HBCU plays non HBCU competition. Now for JSU, this is nothing new, because they play Tennessee State from the OVC every year. Since Hampton has joined the Big South, those schools will soon know that experience annually as well. For most non HBCU schools however, this is an almost alien experience. You’ve heard about an HBCU, but have never been to one. You have heard about the bands, seen them on YouTube, but have never seen one live. From what I have seen though, it’s just a bunch of fans getting together that love college football, even if the game day experiences are quite different for each.

I’ll use my time at James Madison University as an example, when North Carolina Central came to play us in 2008. At the time NCCU was still a Division II program so I wasn’t expecting a good football game. Nevertheless I was still a little nervous. While I love JMU and our passionate fan base, I had no idea how they would interact with what is quite honestly a different kind of football culture. I didn’t know how fans would interact with each other. I was also in band at the time as a Sophomore, and I had no idea how a band savvy crowd like JMU would react to the show style band. I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

I was right in one aspect. The game was a dud for many reasons, chief among them because JMU had a pretty darn good football team that year, but it was a lot more than the game. I saw fans interacting at many tailgates. People were sharing drinks, laughs, hugs, high fives, and interacting with folks they probably would not interact with on a daily basis. Marching into the stadium it was quite the change to have a band actually playing while we were playing our cadence. For one, bands just don’t come to JMU and if they did, none of them would have the nerve to make noise when we came in. That’s when my initial nervousness turned to excitement. I was also pleased to see a mostly full away section, which again, is not really the norm at JMU.

At halftime the band savvy JMU fans already knew not to move from their seats. What they didn’t expect was to actually be impressed. The NCCU band interacted with a show tailored specifically to our fanbase, a practice I have found is common when HBCU bands visit non HBCU colleges. To this date I have never seen a JMU crowd cheer louder and more raucously for a band other than our own. The JMU band in and of itself was excited to see a new style and an impressive band as well. The reactions I saw made it one of the best halftime experiences I would have in college.

The second half was definitely focused on bands since the football game was out of hand, and the bands went from exchanging tunes, to just trying to play over each other. I tried telling our band director they won’t stop playing so just play at the same time, they won’t be offended. The postgame consisted of both bands playing the rest of their shows, fraternities and sororities from each school getting together to sing, and a drumline “battle” which was more of an exchange. At the end of the day, both fan bases went their separate ways with a great experience, and learning about a different, yet not so different football culture.

Following this experience I was inspired to start an annual trip for people from JMU, and other colleges where I had friends, to travel down to see the Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase in Atlanta, where the top 8 HBCU bands perform in January. I was young and naive at the time so I had no idea that people from non HBCU institutions would be so enamored and love the HBCU culture. Every year when we went to Honda BOTB we were always greeted by enthusiastic fans and band dorks just happy to see a group like ours coming. A couple fraternities even invited us to come sit with them for the showcase! All of this is to say, I love when football fan bases come together and have a great time, and this isn’t any different when a HBCU fanbase visits a non HBCU, even if it is a little more special for me.