Thousands filled the sidewalks, the back of pickups and some used lawn chairs Saturday in downtown Columbus and Phenix City for the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic Parade, one of the biggest activities before the game at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.
“They get down,” Yolanda Pitters said as the Tuskegee marching band moved down Broadway in Columbus. “That’s the only thing I come down here for.”
With bright gold rollers still in her hair for church service today, Pitters joined others downtown to watch school marching bands, youth groups, politicians and others groups take part in the annual parade. Police had no crowd estimate, but said it was much bigger than last year’s event.
Pitters admitted that Tuskegee’s Band performed well during the parade, but she was downtown to support Morehouse because that’s where a relative graduated.
Deborah Ivie of Senoia, Ga., was in Columbus for the Georgia BikeFest, which has a campground set up in Woodruff Park.
“I’m out just enjoying the city,” Ivie said. “I like it. We didn’t even know all this was going on other than the bike ride thing. It’s interesting.”
Ivie said she came downtown while her husband was out doing a 100 mile bike ride. “They have different routes that they ride on,” she said. “They go 50, 60, or 100 miles.”
Ivie said they will probably leave Sunday.
The parade was a first for Amanda Ecke of Chicago and her 8-year-old son. “I was told this had been going on,” Ecke said from a spot at 10th Street and Broadway. “I like it here.”
Sophornia Robinson of Columbus said she has been coming to the parade every year to support Tuskegee.
“I like Tuskegee,” she said. “This is the reason reason I come. You see so many people.”
With sounds from Michael Jackson and James Brown blaring from the parking lot at the Civic Center, tailgating was lively with the smell of barbecue on grills.
Larry Sankey of Opelika, Ala., said he’s been attending the classic since 1969, when he was a freshman at Tuskegee University. He was busy cooking up hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages on his grill on the east side of the Civic Center.
Sankey, 61, said he hasn’t heard anything about the game possibly moving to Garrett-Harrison Stadium, but admitted he wouldn’t be there if it moved across the Chattahoochee River.
“It’s too small,” he said of the stadium in Phenix City. “All the history is right here. I wouldn’t go to the game.”
Jessie Gunn of Columbus was grilling for 30 to 40 friends and relatives at his spread. The group was divided with some supporting Morehouse and others siding with Tuskegee. “We are divided,” Gunn said. “I’m Morehouse and my daughter went to Spelman.”
About an hour before kickoff, Gunn said he didn’t think the tailgating crowd was as large as the one last year. “You will be able to tell after the game,” he said.
Tailgating was an opportunity for the South Atlantic Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc. to help area veterans, said Freddie Harrison. For the last four years, the non-profit organization has set up its bus and picnic tables for veterans to eat barbecue and get questions answered.
“Anytime you can get two or three, it’s good,” he said. “What we do is give them information.”
SACVET helps veterans with employment, mental health counseling and other Veterans Affairs benefits. The bus served 35 to 40 veterans last year. About 15 veterans came from Tuskegee Saturday for the tailgating.
Harrison said veterans have come to trust counselors with the organization. “They trust us more than the VA,” he said. “When they want the real skinny, they call us. It’s a labor of love.”
Any veteran who needs information on benefits may call Harrison at 706-593-3393.