Back with a new theme, “The Remix,” this year’s event will expand on revitalizing the former postseason HBCU game that was the premiere African-American sporting event at the former Miami Orange Bowl. Last year’s inaugural match ended its 43-year absence and spurred a new era for OBC.
Spearheaded by executive director Kendra Bulluck-Major and former Miami Gardens mayor and FAMU alum Oliver Gilbert III, the event’s 2021 return took nearly a decade to come to fruition after it was initially pitched to FAMU’s president at the time.
“Knowing what the history meant, we thought it would be great to revive for the younger generation,” Bulluck-Major says.
Originally running from 1933 to 1978, the game’s hiatus impacted Black athletes and snipped the local community’s ties to FAMU’s culture, one of the largest HBCUs in the country. When the OBC was first held in Miami in 1947 at the Miami Orange Bowl, it was the first time Black athletes played at the segregated stadium back when Black people were only allowed to enter the venue if they were employees. At the OBC’s peak, diverse crowds were drawn to the game to watch the innovative marching and performance style of FAMU’s Marching 100 band, and parades would flood the streets of Overtown to celebrate HBCU traditions. It was one of the only events in the city where the richness of HBCU sports and heritage intertwined into one grand event.
“People remembered the parades, and it was a time for us to showcase our talents,” Bulluck-Major says about the FAMU alum and locals who grew up attending the Orange Blossom Classic. “We can’t have an HBCU game without Battle of the Bands.”
This year’s OBC will kick off with the GMCVB Welcome Reception and Luncheon, a scholarship fundraising event held at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort in Aventura. Celebrating the 30th Year of the Woman and Title IX’s 50th anniversary, the luncheon will honor women making strides in sports, politics, and entertainment, such as Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and JSU alum and Dancing Dolls choreographer and director from Lifetime’s Bring It! Dianna Williams (AKA Coach D). Grammy-winning R&B and jazz singer Ledisi is also slated to perform at the luncheon.
On Saturday, fans and HBCU alum can expect an electric Battle of the Bands showdown pitting FAMU’s Marching 100 against JSU’s Sonic Boom of the South at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables. Local high school marching bands from the tri-county area will also vie for the “Best Band in the Land” title.
On Sunday, fans will descend on the Hard Rock Stadium to rep their favorite HBCU team at Gameday Fan Fest, where food trucks and performances on the OBC Fan Fest Soundstage will rev up excitement before the match between the Rattlers, led by coach Willie Simmons, and the Tigers, led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. Last year, the Tigers won in a close 7-6 victory.
The game was broadcasted on ESPN2 last year and was the second highest-rated game on the network over the Labor Day weekend. An average of 700,000 viewers tuned in during the 2021 Southwestern Atlantic Conference match, putting the Classic back into the spotlight. Still, Deion and Simmons believe the game deserves a better slot and should be nationally televised on ESPN instead. Bulluck-Major remains confident that reviving the OBC will eventually impact the talent at HBCUs and make them a competitive choice for high-school recruits.
“Having Deion as one of the coaches puts us in the spotlight,” Bulluck-Major adds. “We know the Walter Paytons of our world, but there’s always a question of whether you can be noticed coming from that [HBCU] world. Long after Deion leaves, people will take notice of the talent, and high-school football players will want to take their talents to HBCUs.”
GMCVB Commissioner’s Welcome Reception and Luncheon. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, September 2, at JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort, 19999 W. Country Club Dr., Aventura. Tickets cost $125 via universe.com.
Orange Blossom Classic Battle of the Bands. 6 p.m. Saturday, September 3, at Watsco Center. 1245 Dauer Dr, Coral Gables; Tickets cost $24 to $28 via ticketmaster.com.
Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic Presented by Ready Life. 3 p.m. Sunday, September 4, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens. Tickets cost $25 to $675 via ticketmaster.com.
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