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Tuskegee-Morehouse Football Classic

Tuskegee University and Morehouse College are preparing to renew their longtime border war in Columbus. But with festivities lined up all week across the tricommunity, the schools’ annual football classic goes way beyond the gridiron.

A musical play at Liberty Theatre, golf tournament, parade, Battle of the Bands and Greek Step Show are among the activities surrounding the 75th installment — all punctuated by the big game Oct. 9 at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is 2 p.m.

The first 200 service members who show up at will call on game day receive free tickets, but they must be in uniform.

“Everyone in Columbus probably has a relative or friend who’s been a student or associated with these schools,” said Dr. Howard Willis, chairman of the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic Committee. “They should come out and enjoy the bands and different activities. It’s a community activity, as well as showing support for these universities. This is a huge social event.”

Between 1920 and 1958, Columbus was the venue for every game except one between Georgia and Auburn, until the rivalry grew too large for the site. The Bulldogs also faced Alabama a few times at Memorial Stadium.But those contests were not open to black Soldiers from Fort Benning or minority residents, Dr. Willis said. So the classic’s founders, along with the athletic directors of Tuskegee and Morehouse, decided to create a new cultural and community event.

“It’s grown to become a very special event,” he said. “The influence of these two historically important schools has grown nationally and worldwide. As their influence has grown, so has our classic.“This is a way to celebrate how important these two schools are to Georgia, Alabama and our region.”The weeklong celebration starts with the 75th Diamond Jubilee Musical Show, on tap through Sunday at Liberty Theatre. Dr. Willis said the play will provide a look at some of the classic’s history.

The 11th Annual Tuskegee-Morehouse Charity Golf Classic is Friday at Bull Creek Golf Course. The Battle of the Bands and Greek Step Show, headlined by comedian and nationally syndicated radio personality Rickey Smiley, takes place that evening at the Columbus Civic Center. He’ll also be a marshal during the annual parade Oct. 9 through Phenix City and Columbus.

“Many people come out early in the morning just to see the bands and the various personalities who ride in the parade,” Dr. Willis said.

The first Tuskegee-Morehouse Football Classic was played here in 1936. However, this year marks the 100th meeting between the football teams.

“The rivalry is intense because Tuskegee University has always been our closest rival,” said Dr. Willis, a 1976 graduate of Morehouse. “These are the most elite and best minority students in this region. We compete academically, athletically and in terms of growth. We’re the oldest black football classic in the nation, and one of oldest continuous classics in the country.”

Tuskegee has dominated the series, winning the last six games and leading 65-27-7 all-time and 50-19-5 in the classic.

Tuskegee, a longtime NCAA Division II football power, has captured three straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships. The Golden Tigers have won eight National Black College Championships, the most recent coming in 2000 and 2007.

Morehouse hasn’t beaten Tuskegee since an overtime win in 2003. But the Maroon Tigers are 5-0 heading into a bye this weekend. Tuskegee (3-1) hosts Miles College at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The planning committee is staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers, said Dr. Willis, who’s given his time since 1988 and became chairman this year. A primary purpose of the Tuskegee-Morehouse Football Classic is to help raise funds for scholarships to help young men and women attend college.