It’s no big secret. I am the HBCU Gameday correspondent for Florida, South Georgia, and parts of Alabama and I am a die-hard Florida A&M Rattler. I played baseball and football and graduated from FAMU. However, I am a trained multimedia specialist with a base in writing and photojournalism. While this is the case, there is a bigger picture when it comes to covering Bethune-Cookman for HBCU Gameday. Our goal is to report on and support all HBCUs as fairly and objectively as possible. To be honest, when I am in work mode, there is not a sliver of dissension.
Being in the Wildcat lair is not problematic. Everyone understands fully why I am there and it’s no secret who I am. The sports information department affords me every opportunity to cover the teams and most coaches know me and are cordial at every turn.
This past weekend I spent fully emersed in the Bethune-Cookman home base of Daytona Beach, FL. We got several comments about our decision to try to be as fair about situations on campus as we possibly could be. It’s odd that news and journalism have moved so far away from the base of actually reporting the news to the opinioned base media we experience today. When a group like ours reverts back to traditional media methodology, it is met with surprise and applause.
I covered the B-CU vs FAMU softball game on Friday, the groundbreaking of the football practice field on Saturday morning, the Maroon and Gold game on Saturday afternoon, and the softball finale on Sunday. It was a true look into the full scope of Bethune Cookman athletics. What I saw might surprise some.
There are no surprises when it comes to the Wildcats and Rattlers squaring off on the softball diamond. In those games, you see some of the best softball in all of HBCU sports. With the game being in Daytona, it is not uncommon to see Sunnyland Park completely overflowing with emphatic fans. Friday’s game came down to a game-winning homerun by the Rattlers to get the comeback win. Laura Watten would steady Bethune-Cookman and take the final two games in dominating fashion.
Groundbreaking the new practice field
Saturday morning’s groundbreaking was a totally different atmosphere. It was a rebound for Bethune-Cookman University. All of the allegations made against the school by one-time coaching candidate Ed Reed could not be ignored. He was selected for the B-CU Football head coaching position and appeared to be days away from signing his contract. It was ironic that the very spot where he began the string of infamous videos, was the beginning of the clearing process of the grounds in preparation for the installation of an on-campus turf field.
Why is this important? As a Florida resident, it is evident that that process began before Reed even got to Bethune-Cookman University, even though social media posts want to credit Reed with getting it done.
My point is this, as a Florida resident I am aware of how slow the permitting process is. Anyone who has tried to build, add on or renovate anything in Florida knows that the permitting process moves at a snail’s pace. That means B-CU must have begun the permitting process BEFORE Ed Reed emerged.
I am not here to dispute one of my favorite players of all time in Ed Reed. I am a big fan of the Pro Football Hall of Famer. I think he could have been the shot in the arm that Bethune-Cookman University needed.
With back-to-back 2-9 seasons, increased student-athlete complaints, and an unengaged fanbase, Ed Reed could have solved a bevy of problems. In fact, he was already doing what B-CU would ultimately need, which was getting outsiders to support the program in big ways. I look at the situation as Reed and B-CU were not a fit for each other…neither to blame for the disconnect.
At the groundbreaking, which the above photo strategically took at nearly the same angle Reed showed in his video, you see progress by Bethune-Cookman University. Administrators, faculty, staff, student-athletes, and alumni all gathered in the parking lot of the Handfield ATC to witness the groundbreaking of the field. B-CU Interim President Dr. Lawrence Drake, B-CU Board of Trustees Chairman attorney Belvin Perry, B-CU Director of Athletics Reggie Theus, and head coach Raymond Woodie were all present for the ceremony. A crowd of nearly 150 onlookers were there to witness a new beginning for B-CU football.
Several former players including All-MEAC and All-American defensive back Rashean Mathis were in attendance. Mathis played in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars and had a solid career. Former B-CU head football coach Alvin “Shine” Wyatt was also there to witness the beginning of the rebuilding of B-CU football. Wyatt did not want to distract from the moment and instead privately engaged Woodie, but his presence was felt. Mathis spoke on what the day meant.
“I’m super excited just being back here where it all started. We’re trying to right the program and we’re headed in the right direction with coach Woodie,” Mathis said. “It’s awesome. We’re trying to add the community back and make sure the support is happening behind this amazing institute that Ms. (Mary) McLeod (Bethune) built and making sure we’re doing things the right way. A lot of things are moving and in the right direction.”
That sentiment was echoed as several of the former players listened for an extended period of time to Drake in an impromptu forum in the parking lot. It was an engaging and open moment, though I did not approach the circle as I felt it was an in-house conversation.
Perry, the focus of some dissent in the Wildcat nation was there in a support role. In fact, it would ultimately be he and the Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees who would have to approve the practice field and other expenditures to complete the facility.
The turf field alone is $800,000 but at least another $400,000-$700,000 will be needed for the field to be functional. That money will have to come from both fundraising and allocations from the B-CU Board of Trustees.
The Maroon and Gold game was…a practice. With Woodie and his complete staff having little time to install too much, Woodie used the opportunity to evaluate the players he had, entertain nearly 200 prospects, and consider what he might need to pursue in the transfer portal.
“The kids wanted to know what to expect and we showed them what to expect and as the spring went on they kept progressing. I think right now they understand what we do and how we do things,” said Woodie. “It’s all about the players and the alumni that paved the way for situations like the groundbreaking of the new field on campus. That’s just a beginning. When I was in school we didn’t have those type of resources, so I’m excited for not just the players, but this university, this program and that’s huge. A lot of recruits, over 160 recruits seeing all of that and that’s big time. Administration worked hard to make this happen.”
While there is still obviously still some dissension within Bethune-Cookman nation, that will be an issue for the B-CU nation to figure out. As HBCUs these matters get complicated and sometimes there are no winners. But, on this day, with the groundbreaking of the facility complex campaign initiated, Bethune-Cookman University Athletics got a big win.