The MEAC/SWAC Challenge HBCU Legends Gala scores a Touchdown in Orlando
By Rhetta Peoples
Labor Day weekend is always a busy one in Central Florida. This year, the MEAC/SWAC Legends gala paid tribute to legendary graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
Donnie Shell, L.C. Greenwood, Willie Jeffries and Monte Coleman were among the honorees. “Every year, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legends Award proves to be a remarkable representation of the contributions and successes across Historically Black Colleges & Universities,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president, ESPN Events. Derzis continues, “We are delighted that in 2015 we will again enjoy an outstanding class, with four distinguished men whose careers in sports started at HBCUs.”
A press release by ESPN stated each honoree will receive an HBCU Trailblazer Award in recognition of the impact made to his or her respective career, community or alma mater.
A spokesperson from ESPN told Hype Orlando,“Since we established the Legends Award back in 2009, we did so to pay tribute to the extraordinary alumni who have used their respective MEAC and SWAC university education to bring excellence to the HBCUs. We couldn’t have dreamed that the event would grow to become truly one of the pillars of the weekend. This year’s class — Donnie Shell, Monte Coleman, Willie Jeffries and L.C. Greenwood – is a continuation of that, and we’re the ones who are honored to bring their stories to the schools and student athletes every year.”
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris hosted the evening’s festivities which proved to be a celebration and lively recognition of a lifetime of work by each honoree.
Although college football and other sports are a hit in Central Florida, unfortunately, the MEAC/SWAC Weekend has struggled to build the kind of attendance numbers remotely close to the Florida Classic. ESPN’s spokesperson continues, “We have enjoyed being in Orlando for the past 8 years, and the City has been gracious hosts to this event. We know the future of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge is bright, having just extended our agreement with both conferences for another six years”.
Several fans agree having Florida teams battle it out will help boost the attendance. ESPN responded by not confirming that Florida teams will play next year but by stating, “We continue to work with both leagues to get the best two schools into next year’s game and hope that fans will be excited to come out and support.”
Regardless of the struggle to sell tickets and generate excitement around the game, the HBCU Legends were properly recognized for their hard work, achievements as well as the inspiration and empowerment they gave to others on and off the field.
Willie Jeffries, a former head football coach at South Carolina State, for almost 20 seasons total, was a recipient also. In addition to being the first black head coach of a NCAA Division 1A team, Jeffries’ professional career continued over a span of 5 seasons at Howard University and 5 seasons at Wichita State University.
L.C. Greenwood, who passed away in 2013, was recognized for his successful NFL career with the Pittsburg Steelers. Greenwood was a graduate of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and his sister was on site to accept his award. In the late 60’s, Greenwood was named Ebony magazine’s All-American defensive lineman in the SWAC.
Donnie Shell, who also had a successful career with the Pittsburg Steelers and was a graduate of South Carolina State, was also among the honorees that night. Shell retired from the NFL and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Monte Coleman, another honoree, certainly showed the game of football what success truly is. He was a linebacker that played for 16 seasons with the Washington Redskins and is now coach of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Just over a week ago, Arkansas Pine-Bluff posted a news release that Monte Coleman will be named to the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame.
All honorees took their leap of faith from an HBCU into a world filled with competition, rejection, excitement and honor. As the event concluded, Disney’s own legend, Mickey Mouse, joined the honorees on stage as their awards were presented.