Red Tails Classic | Cramton Bowl – Montgomery, AL

Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II



Montgomery – The Johnson C. Smith Golden Bulls and Tuskegee Golden Tigers will meet in the fourth annual Red Tails Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Sunday, Sept. 1. The game time, ESPN platform designation and ticket information will be announced at a later date.

The game was created in 2021 by ESPN Events to honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“We are grateful to ESPN Events for showcasing this event on Labor Day weekend,” Johnny Williams, Executive Director of the Boeing Red Tails Classic and Camellia Bowl, said. “We have tremendous support the last three years from not on the Tuskegee community by the City of Montgomery. We are excited to host such a prestigious event again.”

Tuskegee is playing the Red Tails Classic for the fourth straight year. The previous three meetings came against conference rival Fort Valley State. The Golden Tigers posted a 7-4 record last season, including a thrilling 37-31 win over Fort Valley State in the Boeing Red Tails Classic.

“We are excited to once again open our upcoming football season with a nationally televised game in the Red Tails Classic,” head coach Aaron James said. “Our program has enjoyed tremendous support over the past few seasons with Montgomery being one of our surrounding areas, while we also look to bring home a win again like we did in 2023.”

Johnson C. Smith is making its Red Tails Classic debut in 2024. The Golden Bulls posted a 7-4 record last season and played in three separate HBCU Classics. Johnson C. Smith, located in Charlotte, NC, plays in the NCAA Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

“The Red Tails Classic has so much tradition and playing against Tuskegee University, one of the most storied championships football programs makes it meaningful,” JCSU head coach Maurice Flowers said. “It is an honor to be able to play in the Red Tails Classic. We are excited, this is great for our football program to be playing in a nationally televised game.”

ESPN Events

ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of collegiate sporting events nationwide. In 2024, the 34-event schedule includes four early-season college football kickoff games, 17 college bowl games, 10 college basketball events, the premier regular season college softball and gymnastics events, as well as the Band of the Year National Championship. Collectively, these events account for over 400 hours of live programming on ESPN platforms, reaching 60 million viewers and attracting more than 650,000 annual attendees. Each year, the portfolio of events features more than 20 Division I conferences and hosts over 4,000 participating student-athletes. With satellite offices in more than 10 cities across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. Follow ESPN Events on FacebookTwitter/X and YouTube


Tuskegee Uses Late Goal-Line Stand to Hold Off Fort Valley State

By Barry Allen

MONTGOMERY – Tuskegee first-year head coach Aaron James predicted a win over Fort Valley State back in the summer

The Golden Tigers made good on his prediction, but not without a last-second, goal-line stand. 

Fort Valley State running back Kentrelle Williams was turned away a foot short of the goal line by senior defensive end Jayden Barfield and junior nose guard Tyler Wells as time expired to preserve the Golden Tigers’ 37-31 victory in the third annual Boeing Red Tails Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl.

It was James’ first career win as a collegiate head coach.

“This one was special,” James said  following the game. “I’m proud of our team. The defense bent, but didn’t break. They made the plays they needed to make.”

James’ first win was also witnessed by 16,123 fans, the largest in Red Tails Classic history.

Tuskegee could not run out the final two minutes of the game and was forced to punt. 

Fort Valley State took over at its own 20 yard line with 1:24 left and no timeouts. 

On first down, Kelvin Durham hit a wide-open Za’tarious Anderson on a 76-yard completion to the TU 4-yard line. 

After two incompletions and a sack, FVSU was faced with a fourth down at the 5-yard line. Dunham threw an incomplete pass, but a face mask penalty gave the Wildcats new life at the 2-yard line. 

With seven seconds left, Dunham threw another incompletion. On second down, FVSU handed the ball to Williams, who was stopped inches from the end zone as time expired.

“I’m not second-guessing myself, but if I had it to do over again, I would have thrown ball,” FVSU head coach Shawn Gibbs said. 

“We tried several passes that didn’t work, so we went to Kentrelle, who had a big night. It’s a game of inches.”

James was elated to get the Golden Tigers off the field. 

“The clock wouldn’t run fast enough,” James said. “It seemed like it was in slow motion.”

Tuskegee, who lost the previous two meetings with Fort Valley by a combined score of 51-6, jumped out to a 31-14 lead in this year’s event. 

After falling behind 7-0 on Durham’s 18-yard touchdown scamper on the first possession of the game, Tuskegee turned a special teams turnover into a tying touchdown. 

After the fumbled punt, the Golden Tigers needed only four plays for the tying touchdown as sophomore running back Chase Sellers scored from the 2-yard line to even the score at 7-7.

Tuskegee (1-0) added a touchdown and field goal on its next two possessions to take a 17-7 lead. 

Freshman running back Zina Mulbah’s 5-yard run on the first play of the second quarter made to 14-7. 

Freshman kicker Lorcan Ryans added a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 17-7 with 10:53 left in the half.

Fort Valley State (0-1) answered on its next possession to cut the lead to 17-14. Williams’ 7-yard run capped a 72-yard drive with 8:11 left in the first half. 

Antonio Meeks’ 20-yard TD grab gave Tuskegee a 24-14 lead at halftime.

Meeks caught six passes for 149 yards and one touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors. Four of his six catches were 20 yards or longer.

“We made some big plays tonight,” Meeks said. “We worked hard in preseason camp. We had a good rhythm tonight.”

Tuskegee scored on its first possession of the third quarter to extend the lead to 31-14. Nick Hart’s 10-yard TD grab capped a 10-play drive for the Golden Tigers.

The two teams combined for 16 points in a span of 29 seconds in the third quarter, including back-to-back kickoff returns. 

 Fort Valley State kicker Daniel Gibbs booted a 31-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 31-17 with 4:52 left in the third quarter, 

On the ensuing kickoff, Tuskegee freshman receiver D.J. McGhee raced 92 yards for a touchdown to stretch to lead to 37-17. 

Not to be outdone, Fort Valley senior receiver DeJuan Bell returned the kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats to within 37-24 with 4:23 left in the quarter.

Fort Valley State used a 5-play, 72-yard drive to cut the lead to 37-31 with 11:31 left in the game. Williams scored his second touchdown of the night on a 2-yard run for the Wildcats.

Final Stats>


Meeks Takes Home MVP Honors

By Tim Gayle

He did virtually all of his damage in the first half, but Antonio Meeks made it a first half to remember for Tuskegee fans with four huge plays that led to a trio of touchdowns in the Golden Tigers’ 37-31 win over Fort Valley State on Sunday evening at Cramton Bowl.

Meeks finished the game with six receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown, providing big play after big play in the third annual Boeing Red Tails Classic to earn most valuable player honors.

“I feel like that’s my strong suit, big plays,” Meeks said. “My team, when they need me the most, I feel like I’ll come through every time. Big plays is what I made my name off of. I expect to continue to do that.”

Although he didn’t start making an impact for Tuskegee until late in his freshman season last year, former offensive coordinator and now head coach Aaron James expected good things out of his sophomore this season.

“Last year, he was a true freshman and he busted his tail to get back this year,” James said. “Tonight, he was just amazing. I told him earlier in the week that we were going to come to him and he showed up and showed out. Hats off to him. He got the trophy for the MVP and he deserved it.

“He works early, he works late after practice on his craft. Over the summer, he put in the grind and it showed tonight on the field.”

He was a human highlight film for much of the first half. After a pair of three-and-outs, a fumbled punt return gave the Golden Tigers new life at the Fort Valley 49-yard line. After a 3-yard run by Chase Sellers, Bryson Williams lofted a deep pass down the left sideline. Meeks pulled in the ball over Fort Valley corner Landon Austin for a 33-yard gain to the 13-yard line and two plays later Tuskegee tied the game at 7-7.

After Fort Valley’s ensuing possession ended in a punt, the Golden Tigers went back to Meeks again. Another Williams’ pass down the left sideline was grabbed for a 38-yard gain to the Fort Valley 5-yard line and the Golden Tigers scored on the next play for a 14-7 lead.

Late in the first half, leading 17-14, the Golden Tigers struck again as Meeks started inside, veered back out and caught a pass for a 44-yard gain to the 23. Sellers ran for no gain, then for 3 yards before Williams hit Meeks with a slant-in for a touchdown.

On the play, Williams’ pass was a little high and behind Meeks, but the sophomore reached up and back and snared the ball for a 24-14 lead.

“It always makes me happy when a receiver goes and gets the ball when it’s kind of ungettable,” Williams said. “Meeks is a receiver who’s going to lay out for the ball every time, regardless of where it’s at.”

Meeks agreed the touchdown was his favorite play of the night, but the earlier catch that set up the Tigers’ second touchdown was a close second after he wrestled the ball away from Fort Valley cornerback Jamal Janvier.

“It was kind of like a 50-50 ball and once we landed, the ref was telling me to get up,” Meeks said. “And I told the ref, ‘No, I’m not getting up, I want the ball.’ We were fighting for like 30 seconds over who wanted the ball. The ref was trying to pull me up and I was like, ‘No, I’m not getting up, you’ve got to get him up.’”

Unlike last year’s Red Tails Classic, a 21-6 loss in which Tuskegee showed little offense and Meeks managed just one catch for 19 yards, the 2023 version had a little bit of everything, including a special performance by the sophomore receiver from Lilburn, Ga. He said it was exactly what he expected.

“I absolutely did,” Meeks said. “I put a lot of preparation into my craft so what else can you expect? I didn’t expect to go out there and not give it my all, not show up.”



Sunday, September 4, 2022

Wilson Runs Wild as Fort Valley Drops Tuskegee, 21-6

MONTGOMERY – Emanuel Wilson ran wild on Sunday night.

The Fort Valley State redshirt junior running back ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 21-6 win over Tuskegee in the second annual Boeing Red Tails Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

As impressive as he was on Sunday, it wasn’t his best collegiate effort.

He ran for 269 yards against Benedict in his second collegiate football game at Johnson C. Smith in 2019.

Wilson, who is one of the top rated HBCU players in the upcoming NFL Draft, had eight runs of 10 or more yards and averaged an eye-pooping 13.1 yards per carry on 20 attempts.

He sealed the game and earned MVP honors with his 87-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 21-6.

“The game plan was get (Emanuel) the ball and let him make plays,” FVSU first-year head Shawn Gibbs said. “He showed that he can make the plays. He’s got a great future.”

As a team, FVSU (1-0) ran the ball 35 times for 325 yards and three touchdowns. The Wildcats averaged 9.6 yards per rush. In addition to Wilson, freshman quarterback Kelvin Durham ran eight times for 39 yards and one TD. Sophomore Kentrelle Williams added 29 yards on six carries.

“We did some good things on defense,” Tuskegee head coach Reginald Ruffin said. “We had some breakdowns and gave up some long runs. (Wilson) is an outstanding running back.”

Wilson set the tone early with three carries on the opening drive, including a 27-yard burst that set up the Wildcats first touchdown.  He converted a third-and-six with 6-yard run and then ripped off a 27-yard run to put FVSU in the red zone. Durham capped the 6-play, 65-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats up 7-0 with 9:16 left in the first quarter.

On the next touchdown drive, Wilson ripped off a 28-yard run to put the ball at the Tuskegee 32-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Wilson finished off the drive with straight runs of 18, 17 and three yards to cap the 98-yard drive. Wilson’s 3-yard TD run made it 14-0 with 9:33 left in the first half.

Tuskegee (0-1) answered with its lone touchdown of the game when sophomore Ryan Nettles fired a 10-yard pass to Jordan Ogletree to cut the lead to 14-6 with 6:40 left in the half. FVSU freshman Will Riggins blocked the extra point.

Nettles completed 15-of-24 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown in the loss. Senior running back Donte Edwards led the Tigers with 80 yards rushing.  Freshman Corey Petty and sophomore Rodricus Magee led Tuskegee with for catches each.

The Fort Valley State defense made the first big play of the game as senior rover Tyler Moore thwarted Golden Tigers opening drive with 25-yard interception return from inside the FVSU 10-yard line.

“I am proud of our guys,” Gibbs said. “I told them to play fast and physical and we did that.”

Both teams were a little sloppy in the season opener.

Fort Valley State (13-146) and Tuskegee (9-100) combined for 23 penalties for 246 yards.

FVSU will host Kentucky State this Saturday at 1 p.m. (ET), while Tuskegee will travel to Hampton for a 5 p.m. (ET) kickoff.

The two teams will return for the third annual Boeing Red Tails Classic next season on Labor Day weekend.


Ninth Annual Camellia Bowl Set for December 27

Bowl Game to be Part of 100th Season of Historic Cramton Bowl

MONTGOMERY – The ninth annual Camellia Bowl will be played on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET) at the historic Cramton Bowl, which will celebrate its 100th birthday during the 2022 college football season. The Camellia Bowl and City of Montgomery have multiple events planned to celebrate the bowl and iconic stadium’s centennial anniversary,

“We are thrilled to host the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery for the ninth year,” executive director Johnny Williams said. “We have had some very exciting games and we hope this year will continue that tradition as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cramton Bowl, which will be a historic event itself.”

The Camellia Bowl will air on ESPN and match up teams from the Sun Belt Conference, the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA.

Seven of the first eight games have been decided by eight points or less, including the inaugural Camellia Bowl in 2014 when Bowling Green defeated South Alabama 33-28. Last year, Georgia State defeated Ball State as the two teams combined for 71 points in the highest-scoring Camellia Bowl to date.

In addition to the postseason Camellia Bowl, Montgomery will host two preseason kickoff games this season.Jacksonville State will meet Stephen F. Austin in the 9th FCS Kickoff on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN – the fifth FCS Kickoff game played at historic Cramton Bowl. Also, Tuskegee and Fort Valley State will square off in the second annual Boeing Red Tails Classic on Sunday, Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Fort Valley State defeated Tuskegee in last year’s inaugural game, which was created with ESPN Events to honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.



Date                       Result                                                 

Dec. 20, 2014      Bowling Green 33, South Alabama 28

Dec. 19, 2015      Appalachian State 31, Ohio 29

Dec. 17, 2016      Appalachian State 31, Toledo 28

Dec. 16, 2017      Middle Tennessee 35, Arkansas St. 30

Dec. 15, 2018      Georgia Southern 23, E. Michigan 21

Dec. 21, 2019      Arkansas St. 34, FIU 26

Dec. 25, 2020      Buffalo 17, Marshall 10

Dec. 25, 2021      Georgia State 51, Ball State 20



Date                       Result 

Aug. 23, 2014      Eastern Washington 56, Sam Houston State 35 (Cheney, Washington)

Aug, 29, 2015      Montana State 38, North Dakota State 35 (Missoula, Montana)

Aug. 27, 2016      North Dakota State 24, Charleston Southern 17 (Fargo, ND)

Aug, 26, 2017      Jacksonville State 27, Chattanooga 13 (Montgomery)

Aug. 25, 2018      North Carolina A&T 20, Jacksonville State 17 (Montgomery)

Aug. 26, 2019      Youngstown State 45, Samford 20 (Montgomery)

Aug. 29, 2020      Central Arkansas 24, Austin Peay 17 (Montgomery)


Fort Valley State Defense Makes Statement

Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021

MONTGOMERY – The Fort Valley State turned in a first-quarter goal-line stand that set tone for in Sunday’s season opener at the historic Cramton Bowl.

Tuskegee had first-and-goal at the Wildcats four-yard on the opening drive of the game. But, four straight running plays netted only three yards and FVSU took over on downs midway through the first quarter.

The also took over the game.

The Wildcats constantly pressu

red the Tuskegee offense all night in a resounding 30-0 win in front of 13,956 fans at the inaugural Boeing Red Tails Classic, snapping a nine-game losing streak to its long-time Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rival.

FVSU (1-0) recorded 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks and turned five turnovers into 20 points in the dominating win.

The goal-line stand inspired the defensive unit led by senior defensive end Antonio Golden, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Making his first career start, Golden logged six tackles, four tackles for loss (-25), three sacks (-20) and forced one fumble.

“It was just putting a hat on a hat,” Golden said. “We did what we had to do. We made the plays. I was glad to do my part.

Tyler Moore finished with seven tackles, including one sack (-8), one forced fumble and a 29-yard fumble return. Jahseari Patterson added six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss (-6) and one sack (-1).

“The ball bounced our way a few more times tonight,” FVSU head coach Maurice Flowers said. ““I am very proud of defense. They set the tone tonight.”

Overall, FVSU limited Tuskegee to 99 total yards. The Tigers had 35 yards on the opening drive, but managed only 64 yards the remainder of the game. Tuskegee finished with four rushing yards and needed 19 rushing yards on it final possession to climb above zero for the game.

Tuskegee had six drives end in zero or negative yards.

“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense tonight,” Tuskegee head coach Willie Slater said. “We have a young quarterback and offense line and we put our defense in some bad situations with turnovers.”

Fort Valley led 6-0 at halftime on pair of field goals by Andre Labat.

The Wildcats scored 21 points in the third quarter to extend the lead to 27-0.

Quarterback Tyrell Jackson had two touchdown passes to Jhimarre Brown and Shemar Bridges.  B

Jackson finished 17-of-34 for 166 yards and two TDs. Bridges led the team with seven catches for 83 yards.

Senior rover Zach Anderson scored on a 60-yard fumble return.

Labat added his third field goal to cap the scoring in the fourth quarter.




Willie Slater’s longevity at Tuskegee is driven by work on the field and in the classroom

The longtime coach, in his 16th season, is already in the record books

Willie Slater is a rarity.

The Coffeeville, Alabama, native is among a hierarchy of football coaches – at any level – to have spent the lion’s share of their careers with one program, with a record of excellence on and off the gridiron.

When his Tuskegee University Golden Tigers face the Fort Valley State Wildcats in the inaugural Boeing Red Tails Classic Sept. 5 on ESPNU at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, Slater will be entering his 16th season as the program’s head football coach.

That kind of longevity and success are nothing short of exemplary – particularly in the modern era, when about a third of head coaches either are fired within four years or jump to greener pastures.

Former North Carolina A&T head coach Rod Broadway has admired Slater for years. “He’s done an outstanding job,” explained Broadway, who retired in 2017 after an undefeated 12-0 season at N.C. A&T and a Celebration Bowl victory, with an overall record of 127-45 over 15 seasons.

“I used to preach all the time to coaches and players: To win a championship you’ve got to be good day in and day out. You have to repeat your performance. Willie is amazing,” said Broadway.

Slater, 65, has guided the Golden Tigers to seven Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championships. Under his guidance, Tuskegee earned four straight conference titles (2006-2009) and claimed its eighth historically Black college and university (HBCU) national crown in 2007, when the Golden Tigers went 12-0.

Slater’s resume includes having been named to the Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., and the Sheridan Broadcasting Network (SBN) Coach of the Year in 2007 – besides being named SIAC Coach of the Year five times (2007, 2008, 2909, 2012 and 2014).

Simply put, Slater has built one of the premier Division II and HBCU football programs in the nation.

“I feel very fortunate to be here,” Slater said of his role at an HBCU. “It’s a great place for young men and especially women of color at this time and in the world. Our football players graduate with majors in engineering, occupational therapy, architecture and aerospace engineering, and I’m intrigued by that. I like smart young men. Smart young men make good football players.”

And, Slater has receipts.

“We’ve been able to win,” he continued. “Our last two years we’ve been mediocre, which is highly unusual for us.” He’s no doubt referring to 2018 and 2019, when his teams finished 5-5. “But being able to win while getting a good education has been special.”

Coaches don’t become great without great players, and Slater has had a good number of them. Quarterback Jacary Atkinson is at the top of that list.

Atkinson led the Golden Tigers to that 12-0 season and a Black college national championship in 2007, while being named to the SBN Sports Black College All-American Team. He was selected as the SIAC Offensive Player of the Year and was the conference leader in passing yards (2,979), passing touchdowns (34) and total offense (276.6 yards a game).

“Jacary Atkinson was one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Slater said proudly. “He started out being coached by [former Auburn and NFL quarterback] Dameyune Craig, who was our first quarterback coach when I first took the job. Dameyune is at Texas A&M now [as wide receivers coach]. That makes you feel good, too. It lets you know you’re a pretty good judge of character.

“Jacary was a mechanical engineer. He could see the whole field. He was an awesome player, good person and a good kid.”

Slater’s record at Tuskegee is 120-39 – numbers he never dreamed of compiling after succeeding Rick Comegy in 2006.

Comegy coached the program from 1996 to 2005 – compiling a 90-26 record during his 10 seasons, which included four victories in the Pioneer Bowl.

But Tuskegee is accustomed to football coaching excellence.

The Golden Tigers’ most decorated mentor was Cleve Abbott, head coach from 1923 to 1954. In 32 seasons, Abbott had a 202-97-27 record with six Black college national championships and six undefeated seasons.

“Coach Abbott was here a long time,” Slater said. “He had a lot of championships. Coach Comegy is a great coach; I was fortunate to come behind him. He left some good players that really helped – especially at the beginning of my time.”

Slater will tell anyone who asks that success wasn’t handed to him. He started his college coaching career at Troy University, where he spent eight years as an assistant. Troy won two NCAA Division II national championships, in 1984 and 1987.

After his time at Troy (1983-90), he went to his alma mater, the University of West Alabama, for a stint (1991-92), and left for the University of North Alabama, which had a powerhouse Division II football program under coach Bobby Wallace. The Lions won three NCAA Division II titles (1993, 1994, 1995).

Slater, a five-time NCAA Division II National Assistant Coach of the Year, was at Jacksonville State from 2000 to 2003, then took a step up to Division I and became the offensive coordinator at Temple University, once again under Wallace, from 2004 to 2005, before coming to Tuskegee.


Willie Jeffries, a Hall of Famer who was a longtime coach at South Carolina State, always believed Slater would be a great fit at Tuskegee.

“He’s at a nationally recognized school,” explained Jeffries, the first African American head football coach at a major Division I predominantly white institution, when he coached Wichita State from 1979 to 1983.

“You mention schools like Tuskegee and Howard, most families and kids know about them,” continued Jeffries, who, over 29 years as a collegiate head coach, compiled a 179-132-6 record. “He’s at a great school – I said that when he went there. He’s concerned about academic, social and athletic development.”

While he’s in the twilight of a magnificent career, Slater is still driven. The inaugural Boeing Red Tails Classic against Fort Valley State will not only shine a light on his Golden Tigers, but will also honor the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a precursor of the U.S. Air Force.

“I’m excited about the Red Tails Classic,” said Slater, who was appointed the school’s athletic director in 2017. “A lot of people jumped on the board with that one. It’s a great tribute to our Red Tails and the former Red Tails of Tuskegee University at the same time. It will give us a little prestige in our program.”

Willie Slater and prestige go hand in hand.

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Steven Reed Unapologetically Puts On For His City

Montgomery’s Mayor Hopes New Red Tails Classic Game Shines a Bright Light On Tuskegee Airmen While Celebrating HBCUs

Montgomery, Alabama, is on the edge. On the edge of everything — past, present and future. The first capital of the Confederacy. The birthplace of the push for civil rights and racial equality. The heart of the South, and the dawn of what America can become in the next 200 years.

Mayor Steven Reed is here for all of it, as the city focuses on the future.

In passionately working to bring to life in this community — his community — the Boeing Red Tails Classic in honor and recognition of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators, Reed is banking on peeling back the curtain, however painful it might be, for much of America to see and understand a critical contribution to its history.

The Boeing Red Tails Classic — set to be played Sunday, Sept. 5 (7 pm ET, on ESPNU) — will feature two Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Fort Valley State and Tuskegee University, and will be played at historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

For Reed — a native of Montgomery whose uncles and many family friends attended Tuskegee University when it was Tuskegee Institute — there’s promise in the game. Of course, there’s the rich history of the Red Tails and Montgomery’s place in America’s past intersecting the present and the future, and the game is being played some 40 miles from Tuskegee University, where the airmen made history while helping secure America’s future.

Reed hopes the impact of bringing the game to Montgomery resonates for and in the community for a long time, and for good reason.

“I think there is a large swath of America that doesn’t know the full story of African American contributions in service and innovation, and in overall activism in our nation,” Reed explained.

“Montgomery serves as a perfect backdrop because we love football, we know our history, we want to share that history.” Montgomery mayor Steven Reed

“The hope is that by bringing the game to Montgomery, people will learn about the Equal Justice Initiative (a Montgomery-based nonprofit that provides legal representation to prisoners in need), and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and some of the painful parts of our nation’s history, but also can learn about some of the prideful moments of our history.”

Reed, 47, is Montgomery’s first black mayor, and he is keen to keep his beloved city’s drive into the future wrapped in a willingness to fully recognize the past. He recalls the Selma-to-Montgomery marches for voting rights in 1965, which ended at the steps of the state capitol, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to a group of some 25,000 marchers. And the playing out of those historic events is in the lifeblood of Montgomery’s present, as Reed led his city through the difficult days after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“The first challenge was to make sure that we kept the community calm while listening to their critiques about policing, not only in our city, but in our nation, and we tried to do more listening than we did talking. We were blessed to have a great relationship with our community leaders and activists, and our then-police chief, [who] helped us avoid any acts of violence and any acts of property damage in our city throughout those protests.

Continued Reed: “Because of the history of nonviolent protests that Dr. King led generations ago, that is still in the soil here in Montgomery: You can get your point across without bodily harm, or destroying your community, and be heard. And so we gave them that opportunity, and I’m glad we did. We learned a lot from it.”

These pulse points of history were also major drivers of Reed’s desire to bring this HBCU game and celebration of Black history to his city as the mayor also underscored the relevance of America now looking ahead to another bicentennial.

“If I had to write a book the title would be: ‘The Best of America and the Worst of America,’ ” Reed explained. “ ‘The Best of America’ in that we are the birthplace of the civil rights movement and all that our society should be; and ‘The Worst of America’ in that we were the first capital of the Confederacy and a group of states that believed that Black people did not have rights that white men should abide by, and that they were property, they weren’t human beings, and that institutional slavery was more important to them than was the unification of our country.

“Since my election [in 2019], we are looking toward another bicentennial and what Montgomery will be over the next 200 years, and we’re trying to lay that foundation of a community as forward-focused, diverse and inclusive, and one that believes in full potential — not only in our community, but in our state, in this nation — and we believe that, because of those people who sacrificed so much, we have a legacy to live up to. And that means in terms of how we grow the city, how we imagine the city and how we invest in opportunities for all our residents who live here.”

Drawing on the theme of inclusion that is interwoven in the legend of the Red Tails, Reed feels strongly that such a value strengthens every last American, and emboldens the talent pool from which America draws its perseverance — across businesses, organizations and government. The resulting improvement in product and the improved return on investment when inclusion is realized are unmistakable.

“Parts of Alabama have been left behind in the economic growth of our nation,” the mayor said matter-of-factly. “Many of our HBCUs have not been full participants in the progress that higher education institutions have benefited from. And I think that with the game being held here, there’s a picture that we can draw of how the success of African Americans in this country over the years and decades still continues, but not without partnership, not without healthy investment — and that includes the cities, and includes our neighborhoods and communities. And that includes our HBCUs.”

Tuskegee Airmen Fought for Inclusion

The Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group, nicknamed “the Red Tails” after the identifying color on the tails of their P-51 Mustangs, are perhaps an example of the highest order when it comes to inclusion – and the critical, painful misstep of benefitting from the reliability of those the majority treats as less than equal.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in World War II, the United States armed forces needed more airmen. That led to the “Tuskegee Experiment” — so named because, at the time, America’s military had a noted lack of faith in African Americans being capable airmen.

Units of white airmen did not want to fly with Black airmen, but the lack of inclusion did not deter the Tuskegee Airmen. The segregated group, charged with keeping enemy aircraft from destroying U.S. bombers on their missions, showed such unwavering control – and success – that their efforts caused enemy fighters to hesitate and turn back from potential attacks on U.S. bombers escorted by them.

The Red Tails, who fought to be counted among the U.S. armed forces, realized a tremendous accomplishment for the greater good — but they suffered no fools. Discrimination was ever present, and they recognized it in the face of their unrivaled support of their country during the war.

“The reason we need to continue to tell the story is because so many people don’t know the story and fully don’t appreciate what those men were up against, and what their success ultimately meant,” Reed said. “Not only for our victory during the war, but what it meant for our armed forces and what it meant for our nation at large. That is why we have to continue to tell that story: So that people understand the contributions that men and their families made to serve this country when this country would not fully recognize them as full citizens and when many in this country rejected their patriotism for a country that they were trying to make better.”

Mayor Reed hopes the Boeing Red Tails Classic football game will serve “as a backdrop to an encyclopedia of things that have made America what it is today that happened right here in Montgomery.” Additionally, he notes, Montgomery boasts initiatives now that shape what America will become, and what his community hopes to be.

“Our city is going at a fast pace into the knowledge-based economy,” he said, “and we’re trying to transition from a service and manufacturing based economy to one that is more focused on entrepreneurship, small businesses and the explosion, really, of the gig economy.

“I think that our proximity to Tuskegee University and Auburn University, along with the four major colleges that we have in our city, provides us a template to utilize the young talent in the Gen Z generation to really anchor our growth, and we plan to do that around tourism which is focused on the civil rights movement, and, again, the history of our city, state and nation, and by really bringing to light the trajectory of racial equality and civil rights in this country — it is captured here.

“Montgomery serves as a perfect backdrop because we love football, but we know our history, we want to share that history. And we also want to talk about what the future holds and how corporations, foundations and individual organizations can be a part of that.”

And just who will Reed — a proud graduate of Morehouse College, where he played football — be pulling for, come Sept. 5?

“It’s special, you know — to have [the game] take place right here in Montgomery I think shows how we value HBCUs,” Reed explained, giving context to his response. “We’re glad to be able to bring attention to the team I’m rooting for, and that is Tuskegee University – because of the contribution the Tuskegee alumni have made throughout this country for centuries.

“And it’s important, I think, at a time when HBCUs are getting more recognition than they have in quite some time — for us to be the backdrop for that is important because what Montgomery’s place has been in being on the map because of a 26-year-old preacher from an HBCU called Morehouse College, and what he did in 1955.”

In his own way, Reed is adding to that legacy.


Boeing Named Title Sponsor of ESPN Events’ Red Tails Classic College Football Kickoff Game

Boeing has signed a three-year agreement to become the title sponsor of ESPN Events’ inaugural Red Tails Classic college football kickoff game.

Earlier this year, ESPN Events announced the creation of the Red Tails Classic to celebrate Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and honor the Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II. The inaugural game of the Boeing Red Tails Classic will feature Tuskegee University vs. Fort Valley State University on Sunday, Sept. 5, at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

“As ESPN honors the legacy and perseverance of the Tuskegee Airmen, we are proud to welcome Boeing as the title sponsor for this historic event,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “Boeing’s pioneering history in aerospace makes them the perfect fit for this matchup, as we continue to highlight college football and the importance of HBCUs.”

Boeing’s current T-7A Red Hawk advanced pilot training system pays tribute to the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Boeing is pleased to pay tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and celebrate the contributions of HBCU graduates by sponsoring ESPN Events’ inaugural Red Tails Classic,” said Ted Colbert, president and CEO of Boeing Global Services. “As a proud HBCU graduate, I am gratified by Boeing’s dedicated efforts to advance a more equitable future for our employees and our communities.”

For over a decade, Boeing has worked closely with students, faculty and administrators to support and empower underserved and minority populations. Since 2018, Boeing has invested more than $10 million in HBCU partnerships and increased HBCU intern hiring by more than 400%. This includes a partnership between Boeing and Allen University, unveiled in 2020, to establish the Boeing Institute on Civility, which will be a national hub for teaching and provide programming aimed at advancing civil discourse in America and across the globe. Boeing’s competitive paid internship program welcomed nearly 100 HBCU students in 2020.

Trained and based in Alabama during World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Flying more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa over two years, the Tuskegee Airmen’s service directly contributed to the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Tuskegee name also encompasses members of the Air Corps, including navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel. To stand out among other units, the Airmen painted the tails of their aircraft red, which is where the nickname ‘Red Tails’ was born. The B-25 Mitchell bomber used by the Tuskegee Airmen in training was manufactured by North American Aviation – a Boeing heritage company.

The Boeing Red Tails Classic is one of 22 college football events owned and operated by ESPN Events. For more information, visit


The Boeing Company

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures and services commercial airplanes, defense products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future and living the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity. Learn more at

ESPN Events
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 34 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes five early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and a college softball event, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.

For more information, visit the official websiteFacebookTwitter or YouTube pages.




Robin Roberts Homage to Dad


ESPN Events has launched a new event featuring Tuskegee University with the creation of the Boeing Red Tails Classic – a college football event showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities – in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II.

Tuskegee University and Fort Valley State University will play in the inaugural game at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., to open the 2021 college football season on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. ET, on ESPNU.


Join us in showcasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II.

Tuskegee University and Fort Valley State University will play in the game at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., to open the 2023 college football season on Sunday, Sept. 3, at Time TBD


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