Celebration Bowl builds on family tradition as Aggies three-peat

As a proud alumna of North Carolina A&T State University and a Greensboro, N.C, native, I wouldn’t have missed Saturday’s (Dec. 21) Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl for the world.

The Celebration Bowl crowns a winner between the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). “The event’s mission is to provide the schools, alumni, fans, and sponsors with a first-class bowl experience while continuing to celebrate the heritage, legacy, pageantry, and tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)” according to thecelebrationbowl.com.

Fans cheer as A&T scores a touchdown.

The reigning Celebration Bowl champions, my A&T Aggies, returned to MBS on Saturday to defend the title against Alcorn State University. A face-off between the No. 1 public HBCU and one of the oldest HBCUs attracted a crowd of 32,000-plus fans from near and far. The final score, 64-44, solidifies A&T’s legacy with four wins in the bowl’s five-year history.

The game is broadcasted on national television and garners more than 2 million viewers. This type of exposure puts HBCUs in the spotlight and showcases the talent and pride of the schools. 

Ashley Gilmer with her parents Thelma Gilmer and Paul Gilmer.

I attended the game with my mother, who is a graduate of A&T and my father, who is an avid supporter of A&T’s football program. We’ve made the Celebration Bowl a family tradition and have attended for the past three years together. I’m also employed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), which owns the stadium that is operated under a license agreement by the Atlanta Falcons’ organization. It’s so cool to welcome my family to the campus where I work and help them navigate the downtown Atlanta area.

Alcorn State scored first but they quickly faced the wrath of A&T’s offensive machine. As the Aggies scored touchdown after touchdown, the fans cheered on wildly as we knew we were heading for victory. The halftime shows from both schools also did not disappoint.

N.C. A&T’s football takes the stage to claim the 2019 Celebration Bowl trophy.

But watching the game and the halftime show is only part of the fun of the Celebration Bowl. Simply walking around the state-of-the-art stadium, bumping into other alums and catching up on life is one of the main highlights of the experience. At A&T, we have an old saying, “Aggie Pride is worldwide,” and for me, it definitely rings true at events like this. I spotted 10-plus people I graduated with, and it warms my heart to know how well they are doing in their respective careers and lives. Attending an HBCU is like joining a family with kindred spirits. Despite the rivalry between schools, at the end of the day, it’s all love, HBCU love. Speaking of love, a happy couple got engaged during the game and it was shown on the video monitors. If that doesn’t exemplify love, I don’t know what else does.

Fans enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2019 Celebration Bowl.

The fact that MBS hosts the Celebration Bowl, which began at the GWCCA’s Georiga Dome, is just icing on the cake. MBS is the first professional sports stadium in the U.S. to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum status and was also ranked Sports Facility of the Year. The GWCCA’s championship campus is home to many premier sporting events. Earlier this year, MBS hosted Super Bowl LIII and on Saturday (Dec. 28) will host the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Final Four in April. The connectivity of the campus, the state-of-the-art facilities, and the southern hospitality enrich the fan experience.

The Celebration Bowl is already slated to return to MBS in December 2020.

Atlanta is the ideal city for this event since it is home to the Atlanta University Center Consortium, the world’s oldest and largest association of HBCUs. The rich legacy of the nearby HBCUs coupled with the GWCCA campus creates a compelling guest experience.