The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) is one of the nation’s oldest athletic conferences and reigns among the most recognizable HBCU conferences in the U.S.

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1912, the CIAA was originally the “Colored” Intercollegiate Athletic Association before adopting its current name in 1950. The conference is composed of 12 Division II HBCUS from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.

Numerous sports icons have emerged from CIAA institutions, including ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith (Winston-Salem State), NBA legends Earl “The Pearl Monroe (WSSU), Rick Mahorn (Hampton), Al Attles (N.C. A&T), Sam Jones (North Carolina Central), Ben Wallace (Virginia Union) and Harlem Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal (Johnson C. Smith).

Furthermore, coaching legends John B. McLendon, Clarence “Big House” Gaines and Bill Hayes were highly influential during their time with CIAA sports programs. The conference has also produced a number of NFL greats.

Bowie State football coach Damon Wilson will soon join that list of iconic figures as he is coming off leading the program to its third consecutive conference title and was just named the 2021 American Football Coaches Association Division II Coach of the Year, one of the highest honors a Division II coach can receive.

The CIAA made history by naming Jacqie McWilliams its first female commissioner, who also is the first-ever appointed Black female Commissioner in the NCAA across Divisions I, II and III.

The football championship has always been a landmark occurrence for the CIAA, but the basketball tournament is the most highly anticipated event every year. 

“Baltimore is the first new location for the event since 2005 and we are thrilled to welcome thousands of fans, alumni and players from our great HBCUs for a weekend of reunions, basketball, and celebrating our culture,” said Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of Visit Baltimore.

“CIAA’s arrival will not only reinvigorate Baltimore’s industry and economy, but also its tradition of celebrating academic contributions, culture and the sports legacy of HBCUs. It will also allow our city’s youth to learn more about HBCUs and set their sights on attending one of these storied institutions.”

Besides returning to Baltimore this year for its annual basketball tournament, the local ties that the CIAA has is Morgan State being part of the conference in the 1960s. Otherwise, there are several Baltimore-area residents who have graduated from CIAA institutions. Bowie State women’s basketball coach Shadae Swan is a Baltimore native.

The CIAA is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., which is also where the last 16 basketball tournaments were held. Its 12 member schools are: Bowie State, Lincoln, Virginia Union, Virginia State, Winston-Salem State, Shaw, Saint Augustine’s, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Livingstone, Claflin and Johnson C. Smith.

Academic success is considered a “staple of the conference” in addition to athletics. Naming its highest-achieving student-athletes to the Commissioner’s All-Academic Team is a yearly highlight for the CIAA, along with recognizing the Male and Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

“A brand synonymous to none, the CIAA is a crown jewel within college sports. Its annual tournament drives the distinct familiarity of the conference, generating national exposure with media and major corporations who acknowledge the athletic association’s exceptional value,” says a CIAA webpage. 

“Powered by vision and innovation, the CIAA continues to pursue brand prominence in all avenues that will strengthen the foundation of this historic conference.”

Education Day, Career Expo among highlights of CIAA tournament activities

The long-awaited CIAA tournament week will kick off its festivities with its annual High School Education Day (HSED) and Career Expo.

Visit Baltimore will work in conjunction with the CIAA to offer meaningful off-the-court educational programming for the local community and student-athletes focusing on wellness, mental health and women in sports. 

More than 1,500 students from throughout the country are expected to attend the virtual HSED, which offers high school students an opportunity to learn more about CIAA’s 12 HBCU member institutions while helping them make well-advised decisions when selecting and applying to college. Baltimore City high school students are invited to attend. 

Education Day will highlight the “importance of furthering their education and to explore and discover the exciting programs and experiences CIAA colleges and universities have to offer” for students who participate.

“I’m super excited to come to Charm City, not just for the food, not just for the camaraderie across CIAA schools, but also to provide these amazing resources to the community,” said Raquel Robinson, CIAA director of Education Day and Career Expo.

“It’s an opportunity to get students connected in Baltimore and surrounding areas. We want them to know that CIAA is about family, CIAA is for life and it’s a way forward. We know that collegiate sports or going to college isn’t for every student, but we also know it helps change the life trajectory for your community, for your family and for yourself.”

Students get to interact with college recruiters from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, she added.

HSED, one of the staple events of tournament week, will provide onsite admissions and scholarship opportunities for all qualified students, says a CIAA statement. Presented by U.S. Army ROTC, the 2022 CIAA High School Education Day will be held virtually Feb. 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is for high school sophomores, juniors, seniors and community college students.

Similarly, the Career Expo will be held virtually from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and in person on Feb. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Convention Center on 1 West Pratt Street. Registration is free for both events. 

The program activities for Education Day, slated to last no more than 30 minutes, will go as follows: welcome address; sponsor remarks; CIAA Culture video; guest speaker; closing remarks; and instructions for navigating the virtual educational/vendor fair.

“If nothing else, I want Baltimore City, Baltimore County and all the surrounding area of the DMV to know we want you to come check out what the CIAA has in store for you, and for your students and the communities you serve,” Robinson said.

Students are encouraged to navigate the various college and educational booths represented at the virtual fair along with other resources and activities at their disposal.

The Career Expo will cater to upcoming and recent graduates, career seekers and career switchers who are seeking educational and/or career opportunities. Event sponsors, partners, and vendors for this year have not yet been disclosed.

Demetrius Dillard
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