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Top 10 HBCU sports moments of 2017
Published Saturday, December 23, 2017
by Bonitta Best

I know I sound like a broken record, but 2017 was another banner year for HBCU sports.

When CIAA football makes you forget about basketball, you know something special is going on. There was so much to choose from, but everybody can’t make the cut on my top 10 list.

10. Somebody else take this monkey. Steve Joyner Jr. went from going winless against Shaw as a coach at Winston-Salem State and his first few seasons at Johnson C. Smith to finally beating the Lady Bears and getting the monkey off his back with a CIAA Tournament title. Joyner never reached a tourney final with the Lady Rams, and Smith women hadn’t won a championship since Vanessa Taylor was coach. I was a hard critic of Joyner about coming up short every year, but he deserves his props. And he beat defending champion Virginia Union to do it. ‘Nuf said.

9. Don’t hate. Appreciate. The question always comes, “Why do you always put St. Augustine’s track in your top 10?” And my answer is the same, because they keep winning. The Falcons men won their 20th straight CIAA indoor and outdoor championships, and a NCAA outdoor national title. So, shut up!

8. Better than the first. Coach AnnMarie Gilbert led Virginia Union to a CIAA Tournament title and the NCAA Division II Tournament semifinals in her first season. After losing in the tourney final last season, the Lady Panthers regrouped to advance to the DII championship game before losing to an undefeated Ashland team that could beat many Division I squads. That’s no easy feat when everyone is gunning for your head.

7. I want a divorce. After 20 years and seven years, respectively, Hampton and Savannah State universities are divorcing themselves from the MEAC. The Tigers decision came as no surprise since they should have never left the SIAC, a Division II HBCU conference, in the first place. Hampton, however, was a much bigger shock since the Pirates’ biggest rivals – Norfolk State and Howard – are in the MEAC. But the Big South Conference proved to be too good of an opportunity to pass up.

6. Back on top. MEAC opponents had a fun time beating up on North Carolina Central men’s basketball team two seasons ago. NCCU finished 13-19 and lost in the second round of the MEAC Tournament. Laugh. Laugh. But the euphoria was short-lived, as coach LeVelle Moton got the pieces to put together another championship run that resulted in both a conference and tourney title. The Eagles lost in the NCAA Tournament play-in game against UC Davis.

5. What’s basketball? It’s not often that CIAA football makes you forget about basketball. The successes of Bowie State and Virginia State, plus the dethronement of Winston-Salem State, kept fans in the game long past the normal October snooze fest. BSU quarterback Amir Hall and VSU running back Trenton Cannon were worth the price of admission alone.

4. Second to no one. Yes, Grambling came up short in the Celebration Bowl, but the Tigers football program is in the right hands. Coach Broderick Fobbs has put the G-men back into the upper echelon of greatness with three SWAC championships in four seasons and two straight undefeated conference seasons.

3. Black Monday. Seven head coaches were looking for jobs after Nov. 20, including Hampton coach Connell Maynor. And the list keeps growing. Some decided to leave on their own like NCCU coach Jerry Mack to Rice. HBCUs have joined their white counterparts in the win-now-or-else mentality.

2. Little engine that could. Tarik Cohen wasn’t the only HBCU player taken in the NFL Draft, nor was he the first. But, well, look at him? All 5-foot-6. Cohen has taken Chicago by storm with his electrifying runs and dynamic personality. He has rushed for 348 yards and two touchdowns, and was just named an alternate for the NFL Pro Bowl. Who doesn’t love watching him on Sunday?

1. Perfection. Get off the soapbox about A&T’s “weak” schedule. It’s not their fault Charlotte and Gardner-Webb had bad seasons, or the MEAC as a whole was down. They won when it counted, and beat a team as good as them in the Celebration Bowl. They are the best, and it was one heck of a ride.


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