In this latest installment in our “Only One” series, we conclude our search for Black fans at college football games. This week the Only One’s month-long search winds up at the “Holy Grail.”
The football field stretched from the left field fence 100 yards to the visitors’ dugout September 23 at the Minnesota Twins ballpark for the 87th meeting between St. John’s and host St. Thomas in the annual “Holy Grail” game. It was the first time the game was played at the Twins’ park.
“This game is huge,” said Ayo Idowu, a 2013 St. Thomas graduate. “It means everything.”
A record crowd of 37,355 at the Minnesota Twins ballpark, the largest to watch a college sporting event in the state last Saturday, saw the Tommies extend their win streak to four against the Johnnies in a very entertaining three-point victory.
Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Executive Director Dan McKane boasted that the Twins stadium was perfect to “showcase” small-school football in Minnesota. Fans who filed in were either clad in purple (St. Thomas) or red (St. John’s) on this unseasonably hot fall afternoon. A collegiate atmosphere prevailed; the game was exciting and competitive.
“It’s an honor for us to host” the game, Twins President Dave St. Peter said. But as has been the case on the previous three Saturdays at typical football stadiums, the Only One, in a dozen sweeps around the ballpark, searched for and found few Blacks in attendance, running into one or two in each lap.
Marianna Frederick, a first-year St. John’s student from Trinidad, said, “I have never experienced a football game in Minnesota,” nor anywhere else in person, as she explained. She was not the only first-timer.
“This is my first ever,” said St. Thomas freshman Bloweh Paylue of Brooklyn Park, referring to the annual St. John-St. Thomas contest.
“I wanted to experience this for the first time,” added fellow frosh Zahir El-Amin of Minneapolis.
According to Collegefactual.com, both St. Thomas and St. John are “below the national average” in student of color enrollment: 2.5 percent and 3.3 percent of the respective schools’ student populations are Black.
St. John’s all-White coaching staff has only 18 Blacks on this year’s team. Only five Blacks are on the St. Thomas roster, whose coaching staff has just one Black assistant.
“Our history has shown that we’re predominately White,” admitted McKane. “We are working on figuring out…recruiting efforts that we can help [in] educating our members to be comfortable diversifying their recruiting efforts.”
Frederick, who plans to study psychology says, “I was really drawn to the school and its programs” at a college fair in her country, she recalled.
“I think St. Thomas has made a point to bring more students of color to the school. I think it is much more diverse now than it was in previous years,” said Roman Cress, St. Thomas ’03.
“We have to train our coaches and administrators that this is the right thing to do. We need to diversify, and we are not there yet,” said McKane, who added that diversity will be on the agenda for an upcoming meeting with MIAC school officials. “It’s important to me and it’s important for our schools.”
Four Saturdays in September. Two Gopher football games. A game near midway St. Paul. Another in the Riverside area of Minneapolis. First-time football on a baseball diamond in downtown Minneapolis. This concludes our college tour this season.
A full-page color photo on Page 18 of the Johnnies’ game program perhaps answered our month-long question best: Do Blacks attend college football games in-state? On the page titled “A Tradition Unrivaled,” all the fans pictured are White.
“I think you will experience in the next 10 years an even more accepting climate and even more diversity among our athletes,” McKane predicted. “That is one of my goals.”
Will we have to wait another decade before our college tour finds Blacks in any significant numbers?
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com