The 2009 Commemorative Classic football game between Johnson C. Smith University and Livingstone College may be forced from Charlotte to Salisbury.
With repair work scheduled for Charlotte’s 20,000-seat Memorial Stadium, the venue may not be ready for the Oct. 3 event. That would leave Livingstone’s Alumni Stadium in Salisbury, which seats about 6,000.
Preparing for the worst, Mecklenburg County recently told both schools to begin looking for alternative sites, said Gwen Jackson, a Commemorative Classic spokeswoman.
“The decision will be made,” she said, “as soon as we can confirm that there is no possibility that the stadium will be available.”
Jim Garges, director of the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, said it’s impossible to know how long repairs will take.
Maintenance workers recently found that a storm water drainage tunnel under the stadium is crumbling, posing a risk to some sections of bleachers. Engineers later this month will begin assessing the damage, he said.
Garges said the stadium was built in the 1930s. As repairs progress, he said, workers may have to store heavy equipment on the field, making it unusable.
“It’s a pretty involved little project,” he said. “First you have to destruct, and then you have to construct.”
For JCSU and Livingston, moving the game from Charlotte to Salisbury would mean lower attendance. Officials had projected that at least 8,000 people would attend the inaugural kickoff, which celebrates the first college football game ever played between historically black schools.
In that game, played 117 years ago, Biddle Memorial University (later renamed Johnson C. Smith) defeated Livingstone 5-0.
The two schools have outlined ambitious goals for the annual event, comparing its potential economic impact to that of the CIAA basketball tournament.
That vision goes beyond a mere football game. What they envision is a weekend-long spectacular – step shows, awards dinners, scholarship presentations, historical look-backs, trophy presentations, marching bands, the works.
Jackson said the schools haven’t given up hope for a Charlotte game.
“It would be disappointing to lose momentum,” she said. “But given the situation, there’s nothing we can do. We’ll make the best of it.”