ORLANDO, FL (FNN Sports) The Florida Blue Florida Classic Kickoff Luncheon opened the annual “family reunion” weekend at the Rosen Centre on International Drive Friday morning. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Central Florida Region Market President Tony Jenkins emceed the event, which began with the procession of the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats and Florida A&M University Rattlers teams to their respective sides of the room. State and City elected officials and community leaders were in attendance, including Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill, and Orlando District 6 Commissioner Samuel B. Ings.
Rev. Ken James led the invocation with a moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives in Paris and even more recently, in Yola, Nigeria.
The event featured opening remarks from Mayor Dyer, who trumpeted the Orlando Citrus Bowl’s recent renovations, including having over 800,000 total attendees over the past year. He also welcomed the teams to Orlando and saluted the universities for their continual work in the community and their students’ lives. “Presidents Dr. Mangum and Jackson make a huge positive difference at their respective institutions, but their leadership is felt throughout our state,” Mayor Dyer said.
1.8 million fans have attended the Florida Classic since 1978, making it the largest football match between two historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). According to Jenkins, this year’s game marks the 70th time FAMU and B-CU will face each other on the gridiron, and the 36th.
Jenkins got to the reason for the occasion: the historical rivalry. Florida A&M University President Dr. Elmira Mangum and Bethune-Cookman University President Dr. Edison Jackson spoke respectively after inspiriting introductory videos boasting their school’s education programs and student benefits.
After lunch, the meaty discussion began—WFTV 9’s Greg Warmouth led a panel discussion with FAMU head coach Alex Wood and B-CU head coach Terry Mills. Both men shared that the most important tactic they plan to instill in their players is the importance of completing plays. Coach Mills thanked the athletes and fans for being faithful despite the state of flux the team was recently in, having recently lost its previous head coach and a few other staff members. Despite the amicable discussion, the competition was still on. “The bottom line is to win,” Wood said. “The goal is to get the W.”
Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan looks forward to Saturday’s match, all the sponsors and partners involved, and the fun that awaits the fans. “This [Florida Classic] has grown into a super bowl of sorts,” he said.