2017 Celebration Bowl to Open Bowl Season on ABC

The Celebration Bowl will once again be televised live on ABC and open the bowl season. The postseason college football bowl game will kick off at noon ET on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The Celebration Bowl, which showcases the heritage, legacy, pageantry and tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), pits the conference champion from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) against the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Each conference has claimed a victory in the event’s first two years, with MEAC Champion North Carolina A&T defeating Alcorn State 2015 and SWAC Champion Grambling State beating North Carolina Central in 2016. Two bowl alumni were just selected in the 2017 NFL Draft: 2015 Offensive MVP Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T) and 2016 champion Chad Williams (Grambling State).

“We are thrilled to once again kickoff the college football bowl season with the Celebration Bowl on ABC,” said John Grant,  Celebration Bowl Executive Director. “This year’s game will be the first bowl game to be played in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In our third year of featuring the champions from the MEAC and SWAC conferences, football fans have been exposed to two very competitive games that each went down to the wire. With the conference win records tied at one each this year’s game will showcase to millions of fans and viewers another exciting championship game. Atlanta will play host to both the Celebration Bowl to open the season as well as the College Football Playoff Championship as the season finale.”

“We are pleased to know that the 2017 Celebration Bowl will be on ABC again,” said MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas. “The exposure on an international and national level is not only good for our conferences but is also good for the participating institutions. To start the 2017 bowl season is an excellent opportunity for our student-athletes, coaches and institutions as they’re on a national platform that will enhance their brand and marketability. ESPN should be commended for providing this avenue of exposure for the MEAC and SWAC Champions.”

“The Southwestern Athletic Conference is excited to continue its relationship with the Celebration Bowl, ABC and the city of Atlanta,” SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said.  “The best football fans in country will once again have the outstanding opportunity to watch the MEAC and SWAC champions kick off bowl season, playing in front of a nationally televised audience.  The excitement of the game, the halftime battle of the bands and the opportunity to play in the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, makes for a fantastic bowl experience for our student-athletes and football fans everywhere.”

Tickets for the game, a full ancillary event schedule and discounted rates at downtown Atlanta hotels will be available this summer. To stay up to date on Celebration Bowl announcements, sign up for updates on www.TheCelebrationBowl.com, and follow the event on Facebook and Twitter.

ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, also manages the season-opening MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Labor Day Weekend, another game that showcases these two conferences and highlights the traditions of HBCUs. The 2017 Challenge features Southern University from the SWAC and South Carolina State University from the MEAC, and will be played Sunday, Sept. 3 at Southern’s Ace. W Mumford Stadium, live on an ESPN network.

The Celebration Bowl is one of 13 bowl games owned and operated by ESPN Events.

Grambling Mascot Highlighted in AFR Citizen Airman Magazine

Eddie the Tiger, aka Senior Airman Quincy Wheaton, poses with (left to right) Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, assistant vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, Headquarters Air Force, Washington, D.C.; Lt. Gen, Maryanne Miller, Air Force Reserve Command commander; and Chief Master Sgt. Ericka Kelly, AFRC command chief. (Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

*Note* – this story originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Citizen Airman Magazine

A Tiger’s Tale: To Salute or not salute

Citizen Airman/Apr. 2017 — There are many times in the military when service members are faced with making a quick decision about whether or not to render a salute. But very rarely does someone find himself in a situation where he is being coined by a major command commander while dressed in an orange and white tiger outfit during a nationally televised football game and having to answer the question, “Do I salute?”

But that’s exactly the extremely unusual situation Senior Airman Quincy Wheaton, a knowledge operations management Airman with the 433rd Airlift Wing, found himself in while prowling the sidelines of the Georgia Dome during the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Dec. 17.

Wheaton is a senior at Grambling State University, whose football team was facing off against North Carolina Central in the bowl game. During the fall, he suited up as Grambling’s mascot Eddie the Tiger, named after Eddie Robinson, the school’s legendary football coach.

“I met Generals Miller and Harris (Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, Air Force Reserve Command commander; and Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, assistant vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.) while they were walking on Grambling’s sideline,” Wheaton said. “I just remember seeing the stars on their shoulders, showing off such high rank, and I thought to myself, ‘I have to go meet them and shake their hands.’”

Before actually approaching the generals, Wheaton knew he had to prowl gently and not attack.

“I definitely didn’t want to startle them or catch them off guard by having a big orange and white tiger just walking up to them,” he said. “That’s one downside to being a mascot. You never know how people may react toward you or their own personal feelings toward mascots. It’s not always so pretty.”

Wheaton cautiously approached the generals and Chief Master Sgt. Ericka Kelly, AFRC command chief, so as not to startle them, introduced himself and stated he was a Reservist at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He explained the reason he was in a Tiger suit and that he is currently a student at GSU.

“They are the highest-ranking individuals in the Air Force who I’ve ever personally met, so the whole ordeal was truly an honor,” Wheaton said. “I’m sure their reactions to having a conversation with a big orange tiger were still quite funny. They were so nice and seemed happy to meet me.”

Soon after meeting the trio, Wheaton was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to salute.

“Getting coined while in the tiger suit was a surreal experience,” he said. “I was completely shocked that she (Miller) even coined me.”

For Wheaton, having the opportunity to meet such high-ranking officials and getting coined, while wearing his other “uniform” at GSU’s biggest game of the year, caused him to have a lot of emotions.

“I believe I was in so much shock, I honestly forgot to salute,” he said. “I thought about it afterwards: ‘Should I have saluted? Would I look silly saluting her in a tiger suit?’ I know you’re supposed to, especially because it was an officer. That all ran through my mind in the brief moment of speaking with them.”

With Grambling pulling off an exciting 10-9 victory in the waning moments of the game to take home the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Championship, securing the Historically Black Colleges and Universities National Championship, it was a big day all around for Wheaton. And to top things off, he got to perform for only the second time with the World Famed Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band during halftime in front of family, friends and a national television audience. And, of course, there was that thing about getting coined in a tiger outfit.

“To get my first coin was something, but to get it from the commander of AFRC, that’s amazing,” Wheaton said. “That’s something worth bragging about.”

Two Celebration Bowl Alums Selected in 2017 NFL Draft

Two Celebration Bowl champions were selected in the 2017 NFL Draft this past weekend in Philadelphia.

Chad Williams, Grambling State’s leading receiver in their 10-9 victory over North Carolina Central in 2016, was selected in the 3rd round (98th overall) by the Arizona Cardinals. Williams logged 90 catches for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season. His 111 receiving yard/game average was 5th in all of FCS.

North Carolina A&T RB Tarik Cohen, 2015 Offensive MVP, was selected in the 4th round (119th overall). Cohen became a household name after his standout performance in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, where he ran for 295 yards, had 53 yards receiving, and scored 3 TDs in the Aggie’s thrilling 41-34 win over Alcorn State. In 2016 he went on to become the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher and took home MEAC Offensive Player of the Year honors for the third straight year. Cohen was also awarded the inaugural Deacon Jones Trophy for HBCU Player of the Year.