SALEM (WSLS 10) – Thousands of people are coming to Salem this weekend for the CIAA football championship.
Both teams arrived in Salem on Thursday, a day ahead of volunteer service projects that both collegiate teams will take part in. Members of the Bowie State University (BSU) and Winston-Salem State University (WSU) teams will volunteer at Round Hill and Westside Elementary schools.
After controversy over North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the association announced in September, to immediately relocate eight of the 10 North Carolina-based conference championships. One of those games was moved to Salem.
Now the Roanoke Valley is working to become its permanent home. A proposition CIAA Championships Director Breon Hagans said is being considered.
“It’s been a very easy transition,” Hagans said.
What typically takes months of planning, Hagans said Salem completed in only weeks.
“The staff has been amazing. The stadium has made this easy. The mayor has welcomed us with open arms,” Hagans said.
Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea hopes to make the Roanoke Valley the new home of championships for the CIAA, a conference made up of historically black colleges and universities. It’s a conference that Mayor Lea has a special tie to.
“It changed my life,” Lea said.
In his college days, the mayor was once a player for the Panther Gridders when he was a student at Virginia Union University.
“I attribute what I am today to my matriculation at Virginia Union University in Richmond. The care and guidance they gave me that made me the person that I’ve become,” Lea said.
It is an experience he wants to bring to the African-American community in Roanoke. Knowing what the game did for him 40 years ago, he wants that exposure for local youth.
“It gives them an opportunity to be inspired, to be motivated. A result of that, a lot of people make choices about going to college,” Lea said.
No doubt, this weekend’s game is a test run for the future.
“I’m encouraging all the fans to come out. We want to keep them here,” Lea said.
“I have the contract on my desk. We want to take this first dance and see how it goes. But there is no doubt in my mind it will be anything short of great,” Hagans said.