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Bragging rights are not only thing at stake in ‘Battle of the real HU’

Hampton vs. Howard in Chicago Football Classic is about recruiting, alumni events and pride

After a one-year hiatus, the “Battle of the real HU” is back this weekend as part of the Chicago Football Classic. The 22nd annual classic will be played at Soldier Field and Hampton and Howard alums from the Chicago area are ready for the longtime rivals to meet again.

Every year the Chicago Classic features different historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and is considered a showcase and networking event for HBCUs. Last year’s contest was between Morehouse College and Miles College. Over four days, there will be many activities, including a college fair, high school and college battles of the bands, vendor marketplace, job fair and alumni events.

Javondlynn Dunagan, former president of Hampton’s Chicago alumni chapter, is thrilled that the matchup is coming to Chicago. “The city is electrified and they have planned tons of events leading up to the game and after,” said Dunagan. “This is a very big deal, because Hampton and Howard both have large alumni following and chapter members in the city of Chicago.”

Hampton University’s Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs Joan McMillan Wickham says the classic is a great opportunity for both schools and HBCUs around the country.

“I think it’s great that we’re [Hampton] back in the classic in Chicago. As you know, in the Midwest they don’t have [many] HBCUs, so this is a great opportunity for Hampton and Howard. The game highlights HBCUs and a lot of people aren’t familiar with them,” said Wickham.

Though the classic may seem geared to alumni, high school students from the surrounding communities will receive a chance to be exposed to a culture they might be unfamiliar with. Senior Alexis Simmons was influenced by previous Chicago Classics, leading her to join Hampton University’s Marching Force. “With me being in [high school] band myself, it was inspiring seeing that [HBCU bands] and now for me to be able to go back there and perform on that very field I was once inspired from makes me feel kind of good,” said Simmons.

HBCUs are scarce in the Midwest, with only two schools each in Missouri and Ohio. Howard alum Keith Bibbins says that with the battle of the real HU coming to the Midwest, it could help recruiting efforts for both Howard and Hampton. “This could help because a lot of these kids are not even considering HBCUs or have never heard of them, especially out this way,” said Bibbins. “It’s mostly the South and out east that HBCUs are more known and popular. The more exposure we get, the better for us.”

Exposure and recruitment are extremely important for HBCUs, but why is this rivalry important?

“I find this game significant due to the history between the two teams,” said Howard defensive lineman James Newell. “It’s always a battle of who’s the real HU throughout the year and it’s no better way to settle that than a football game between the two. But the best part is at the end of the day, it’s two teams full of educated black men, playing the sport they love [and] competing on a big stage.”

The history Newell speaks of dates to the very first Hampton-Howard matchup in 1908. Hampton leads the series record 50-42-1 and has won the last three games. The last time they played each other after a big move was in 1995, when Hampton moved from NCAA Division II in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) to Division I with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Hampton lost 22-34.

Last season, Hampton moved from the MEAC to the Big South and this will be the first time Hampton and Howard will play since that move. This Saturday afternoon game marks the 94th Battle of the real HU and fans will likely watch Howard quarterback Caylin Newton, MEAC Offensive Player of the Year last season, go up against former Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, who transferred to Hampton and leads its offense. The winner will get bragging rights and claim to the title of “the real HU.” The teams are scheduled to play again next season.

Whitney, a senior journalism major from Cincinnati, works at Hampton’s on-campus radio station, WHOV 88.1 FM. She is also a play-by-play commentator for women’s basketball games and a color commentator for football and men’s basketball.