BY JAMES P. HILL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
TALLAHASSSEE – Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M athletics fans began the month of March madness with the latest installment in their cross-state basketball rivalry.
“I think historically like I always say we have one of the oldest rivalries you know dating back and it’s always good to get up here and lock it up,” said Vanessa Blair-Lewis, head coach of the Lady Wildcats. “I think tonight, what was on the girls’ minds, was securing the third championship.”
B-CU Lady Wildcat’s (24-7, 15-1) did just that, capturing their regular season Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) women’s basketball title for the third consecutive season. B-CU went 2-0 on the ladies’ side vs. Florida A&M (8-24) winning Jan. 13 (44-42) and March 1 (62-42).
Men shine too
B-CU’s men’s team also defeated FAMU (9-25) twice during the 2017-18 season to earn the MEAC regular season championship during statewide HBCU rivalry.
First-year Wildcats head coach and Daytona Beach native Ryan Ridder says coaching in the basketball classic is an honor.
“Tonight was one of those moments you dream of with your guys,” Ridder said. “Obviously playing on the road at a rival spot and having a chance to clinch a share of the MEAC championship regular season I don’t know if it gets a lot better than this.”
‘It’s a dream’
B-CU junior guard Isaiah Bailey helped the Wildcats, scoring 19 and 24 points in the last two of their nine wins in a row over FAMU. The latest – B-CU 89, FAMU 77.
“It’s a dream. Three years ago, I was about to quit basketball …three years later, we are MEAC Champs so it’s a dream man. First and foremost I just want to thank God, the coaching staff for believing in me, and all of my teammates for being on this ride with me.”
First-year FAMU men’s coach Robert McCullum is ready for his Rattlers to strike first and win vs. B-CU.
“I have a great deal of respect for the two historically Black institutions in the state, but from what I know they have beat us a number of consecutive times so until we start winning it’s not a rivalry,” McCullum said. “So we start winning, it will be a rivalry.”
Always a rivalry game
According to the B-CU Athletics department, Florida A&M leads the men’s basketball series (71-89) in the cross-state rivalry.
Meanwhile, in the ladies’ basketball cross-state rivalry, B-CU is on a four-game winning streak vs. FAMU. Blair-Lewis believes whenever B-CU and FAMU compete in athletics events student-athletes, faculty, and alumni are proud to attend and enjoy the occasions.
“It’s always been a rivalry game. It might be the second oldest rivalry in Black college outside of Grambling and Southern so we know that every year, but we don’t try to let our girls get caught up in the rivalry,” Blair-Lewis said.
“We just go play the game; we let the fans enjoy the rivalry.” A rivalry B-CU and FAMU student-athletes, and alumni want to continue sharing forever.