Felix Morton proudly wore his Elizabeth City State University Tri-County Alumni Association chef’s hat Saturday as he grilled breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than 500 people at the 15th annual Down East Viking Football Classic.
Morton and his fellow grillers in the alumni tent were among hundreds who endured drizzling rain to fill the tailgate parking lot to the east of the Rocky Mount Athletic Complex starting at 7 a.m. even though the football game between Elizabeth City State and St. Augustine’s University did not start until 4 p.m.
“For me, the most important thing about the Down East Classic is the camaraderie,” Morton said. “Seeing the new and old alumni sitting down for food and fellowship, just having a good time, makes this a great day.”
St. Augustine’s alumni and Rocky Mount native Larry Battle drove an RV from Virginia to tailgate, enjoy the game and celebrate at the after parties with his family and coworkers. He said he made sure to purchase all their supplies in Rocky Mount and stay at hotels in the city, too.
“I came to support this city whether Elizabeth City is playing my alumni or not,” Battle said. “I just have fun coming.”
He said the event gives him an opportunity to see friends he hasn’t seen in decades while starting a tradition with his two children.
“They haven’t really grasped the whole experience yet, but they are excited to be out here,” Battle said. “I’d like to pass this on to them regardless of what universities they go to.”
Participating in Saturday’s festivities was a first for Rocky Mount’s Street Soldiers Motorcycle Club, but club secretary, Terrance “T-Roc” Dickens said he was glad the event brings the spirit and pride of the college atmosphere to Rocky Mount.
“This event shows people that college is not out of their reach,” Dickens said.
Reaching out to potential students is one of the goals event founder Dr. Claudie Mackey had when he pitched the idea of the Classic to college and Rocky Mount officials. He said having multiple events targeting all ages prior to the football game was a perfect way to make the Classic an all-around success.
“It has become so much more than what I first envisioned,” Mackey said.
Mackey said partnerships within the public and private sectors are instrumental to raising thousands of dollars for college scholarships, the Boys & Girls Clubs and Rocky Mount’s Parks and Recreation programs.
“This is a win-win for everybody,” Mackey said.
“It is not just Elizabeth City State University coming to Rocky Mount to make a couple dollars and go home. We want to help those around us, too.”