Photo via U.S. Open Website
The United States Tennis Association recently held its first-ever “HBCU Live” event at the U.S. Open in New York City. The theme of the event was to feature Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), giving fans a cultural experience that is unfamiliar to the tennis world.
A “yard” atmosphere was the USTA’s goal for the performance. Fans were provided with a dynamic day show by the Howard University Showtime Marching Band throughout the entire day. The Fight Song, “Fight/Woo” was played, as well as another Band classic called “Old Howard Spirit.” Members of the band, the Flashy Flags, and the Ooh La La! Dance Line made their way around the grounds of the tournament and shined during their center court performance at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 2.
Junior, Calyn Coleman, plays the alto saxophone for the band and says that the opportunity to play at the U.S. Open was a unique privilege.
“We are incredibly appreciative and always humble about every opportunity we get, because this means that more eyes are on us and more people want to know about Howard,” Coleman said. “This can lead to more opportunities for the band and for our school.”
The inspiration behind this event comes at a time when HBCUs are being highlighted for their history and importance to society at large. A great trailblazer in the sport of tennis, Althea Gibson, graduated from Florida A&M University and became the first African American to win a grand slam tennis tournament. She is someone who made history for both Black men and women to pursue the traditionally white dominated sport. A statue in her honor was unveiled in 2019 on the U.S. Open grounds.
In the same vein, the USTA Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Marisa Grimes, developed this idea to put HBCUs in a spotlight that can stretch far beyond a single day at the U.S. Open.
Additionally, contributions made to the tennis community by HBCU graduates were celebrated on this day. David N. Dinkins serves as a legend amongst tennis lovers, HBCUs and New Yorkers. Not only is he a Howard graduate, but he is the only African American to ever be Mayor of New York City. As a pillar in the community, he made efforts to sustain the U.S. Open legacy by expanding the site’s grounds in Queens.
A new grant called the USTA David N. Dinkins HBCU Coaching Grant was established at the event to support each of the 38 HBCUs with varsity tennis programs. It serves as an opportunity to further develop the growth of the sport, the players, and the coaches at HBCUs
Senior and Captain of the 2021-2022 Ooh La La! Dance Line, Ayanna Snead, says that her favorite part of the day was the final center court performance. It served as an honorable tribute to the late Mayor Dinkins and his family that attended to honor his legacy.
“They had a tribute for him, a moment of silence, presenters, and then we got to play right after,” Snead said. “That was really special for us because he went to Howard and everyone at the U.S. Open knew who he was.”
The first African American President, Chairman and CEO of the USTA, Katrina Adams, expressed her excitement to see Howard University performing at the HBCU Live event.
“It was a celebration of history and culture, while also honoring a Bison Legend, the late, great Mayor David Dinkins,” Adams said.
President Wayne A. I. Frederick was also in attendance at HBCU Live to share this monumental event with our students. He described it as a “privilege and a thrill” to watch. Furthermore, President Frederick acknowledged the importance of inclusion in tennis.
“The contributions of the Black community to the sport of tennis are officially underrepresented and widely underappreciated. This event was a wonderful step forward in the much-needed effort to publicize Black culture and its impact on tennis as well as to expand participation in tennis in Black communities,” said President Frederick.
“The Showtime Marching Band was the perfect choice to participate in this event because of the way these artists and musicians encapsulate Black culture and convey the energy and enthusiasm that defines the African American experience and the Black community at large.”
Howard University’s Showtime Marching Band has an established history that continues to expand due to opportunities like HBCU live. In the past, Showtime has performed at other major events such as NFL games, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and even the Presidential Inauguration. As for the near future, more exciting performances are to come.
“Next week is ‘Classics’ so we perform against Hampton, our number one rival,” Snead said. “We really have to step out and show who’s the real HU!”