Bayou Classic draws crowds, funds HBCU scholarships | Entertainment/Life

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For Tanner Mabry, 6, it’s the Southern University cheerleading team. For her cousin, Carter Jackson, 15, it’s the football game itself. For Tanner’s father and Carter’s uncle, Trenier Mabry, it’s friends and family reuniting

“We’ve been coming for the last 40 years. We’ve never missed a Bayou Classic,” Trenier Mabry said.

Southern fans and cousins Tyler Ward, 12, left, Carter Jackson, 15, and Niyko Square, 14, have a 360-degree video made of themselves at the Forever Favored Event Rentals booth during a Black business showcase at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in advance of the 49th Bayou Classic on Saturday.

Mabry’s father, Leslie Mabry Jr., was president of the Southern University Alumni Federation’s Tangipahoa Parish chapter president, before he died in April. That makes attending the 2022 Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling State University bittersweet.

But everyone in the family hopes to see Southern take back the trophy from Grambling State University, and break a 24-24 tie between the two historically Black universities, at the 49th Annual Bayou Classic at the Caesars Superdome on Saturday at 1 p.m.

“We’re expecting that win,” said Trenier’s wife, Michelle Mabry. “It’s the S on our chest that makes us the best,” Trenier Mabry agreed.

A packed roster 

The Bayou Classic encompasses 48 hours of luncheons, seminars, parties, a Black business showcase, two battles of the bands (one for six high schools, and one for Southern and Grambling), a parade, a flag football contest and a fan festival, in addition to the Southern-Grambling tackle game. This year’s classic is the biggest one to date, said to Dottie Belletto, CEO of New Orleans Convention Co. Inc., which manages the event.

It attracts more than 200,000 visitors and fills 90% of New Orleans’ hotel rooms. The Battle of the Bands sold out all 32,628 seats, more than have ever been available thanks to a renovation at the Superdome.

“The Bayou Classic is a rivalry, but it’s also a family, because we all work toward one goal: to raise money for scholarships to give these kids a college education,” Belletto said.

Bayou Classic 2022 preview

Drayden Dunn, founder and owner of Envision Media & Marketing of Shreveport, smiles during a Black business showcase at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in advance of the 49th Bayou Classic on Saturday.

Drayden Dunn, who showcased his Shreveport business, Envision Media & Marketing at the Bayou Classic Vendor Village, said the event serves as a vital breeding ground for Black entrepreneurship.

“Being able to build and pass down generational wealth is the reason we’re here,” Dunn said. “We’re striving for Black excellence. It can’t be left on the field.”

Proceeds from Bayou Classic events fund scholarships via the Southern University System Foundation and the Grambling State University Foundation. In addition, corporations also donate and provide “students the much-needed resources for their continued success, ultimately contributing to making a long-term impact on our communities and preserving the legacy of HBCUs for generations to come,” Grambling President Rick Gallot said, in announcing a $250,000 endowment from the Diageo liquor and beer company.

“Roots in both”

Originally from Seattle, junior Agye Mintah said Southern’s HBCU culture is what attracted her to the school. “It’s exciting and fun to experience everything from tailgating to Pretty Wednesday, when students have DJs, food trucks and Greek strolls” on the campus, she said.

Bayou Classic 2022 preview

Ja’Quel Brooks, president of Grambling’s Student Government Association, and Ariel Box, Miss Junior on Grambling’s Royal Court, attend the coaches luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in advance of the 49th Bayou Classic on Saturday.

Adorned in a sparkling tiara, Ariel Box, a Grambling junior and a member of the school’s Royal Court, strolled arm in arm through Friday’s coaches luncheon at tye Hyatt Regency Hotel with Ja’Quel Brooks, president of Grambling’s Student Government Association. Both said the university’s sense of fellowship supported them in and outside the classroom.

Ever the careful business owner, Dunn would not say whether he was rooting for Southern’s “Human Jukebox” or the Grambling Tiger Marching Band at Friday night’s Battle of the Bands.

“It’s about the pageantry,” he said. “Most every family has relatives [who] are Grambling and Southern alums. No matter where you went to school, you have roots in both.”