TUSCALOOSA [October 12, 2023] – The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Council of Presidents voted unanimously to extend membership to Stillman College (Ala.) beginning July 1, 2024. GCAC Commissioner Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes also announced that Visit Tuscaloosa was awarded the bid to host the 2024 Hope Credit Union Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, which will be held at Stillman’s Birthright Alumni Hall February 28 to March 3, 2024. Stillman will join Voorhees University (S.C.) and Wilberforce University (Ohio), who were announced as new members this week.
“This is an exciting week for the GCAC,” stated Dr. Ki Baker Barnes, GCAC Commissioner. “Expanding our conference has been at the forefront of our organization’s goals, and adding Stillman is a major step forward for us. We are grateful for President Page and Athletic Director Whittle for leading the charge to join our conference.”
Founded in 1981 the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference is the only conference in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) comprised solely of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In 2022, the GCAC expanded to nine members with the addition of University of the Virgin Islands, and in 2023, Talladega returned to the conference, putting the membership at 10 schools. The expansions in 2024-25 will give the GCAC at least 10 teams in women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball and baseball, earning each sport two automatic berths to the NAIA Championships.
“Stillman College is pleased to join the NAIA’s only HBCU conference. Not only do we look forward to the friendly rivalries, but we also look forward to forging relationships with the other GCAC member institutions that will extend beyond competitive sports,” said Dr. Yolanda W. Page, the eighth president of Stillman College. “I hope that academic partnerships will be among the benefits of our membership.”
Stillman Athletics Returns to its Roots
Stillman College’s move to the GCAC is a return to an HBCU conference after previously competing off-and-on in the NCAA’s historical black Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) from 1978-2016. Stillman returned to its NAIA athletics origins in 2016 and has competed in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) from 2018 through the end of the current 2023-24 season.
Director of Athletics Terrance Whittle said the Tigers are excited to join the GCAC as its newest member in the 2024-25 academic year.
“The move marks a historical moment in the life of Stillman College as we are glad to be joining the only HBCU conference in the NAIA. We believe our athletics footprint, geographical location, institutional values, academic standards, and historical lineage align with the GCAC standards,” said Whittle, who is also the head baseball coach. “We look forward to Stillman’s championship programs reigniting past conference rivalries and creating new rivalries. We want to thank the Council of Presidents and Commissioner Dr. Baker Barnes for the opportunity to join this historical conference as we continue to uplift and educate our communities and our students.”
Fielding 11 intercollegiate athletics teams, Stillman College’s addition to the GCAC, along with Voorhees, furthers the GCAC’s goal to add softball as a championship sport in 2025. Stillman will also become the first GCAC member to field bowling programs.
The Tigers’ return to the NAIA in 2016 has been fruitful, with eight NAIA postseason appearances and more than a dozen individual or team conference championships across the department since 2018. Through Stillman College’s more than 60 years of athletics history, the Tigers have produced more than 20 conference team championships across four sports, numerous individual conference track & field titles, and 30 national tournament appearances across five sports. National championships have been won by individuals in men’s outdoor track and field, and men’s basketball was declared the 2021 HBCU Small College National Champion. Four sports programs have had student-athletes become professional athletes, including 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Jeff Henderson (track & field).
The move to the GCAC is a return to conference rivalries with former SIAC opponents Rust College and Fisk University from the 1970s-80s, in addition to former NAIA rivalries from the 1960s against Dillard University, Philander Smith University, Talladega College and Tougaloo College. Talladega and Stillman both competed in the SSAC in 2022-23.
A New Partnership
With the entry into the GCAC comes great fanfare as Stillman College has been selected as the host site of the GCAC 2024 Hope Credit Union Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships in early 2024. The tournament is the collaboration between the college and Visit Tuscaloosa, the local tourism destination marketing organization.
“We are excited for Stillman College, as well as our executive director of sports, Stan Adams, on the announcement of the 2024 GCAC Basketball Championships,” said Kelsey Rush, president and CEO of Visit Tuscaloosa, a destination marketing organization. “Together, they successfully demonstrated why Tuscaloosa is a premier location for this tournament and we hope it is the beginning of a long-standing relationship. We look forward to welcoming players and fans to our community as we deliver an elite-level tournament experience.”
Page agreed that the partnership between Stillman College and Visit Tuscaloosa has been a welcomed one.
“When I arrived in Tuscaloosa three months ago, I stated that Stillman would be a contributing member of the Tuscaloosa community,” Page said. “Being a co-sponsor of this conference tournament demonstrates that Stillman is poised to impact the city’s economy positively. I sincerely hope the Tuscaloosa community will support the tournament.”
Rush estimates the economic impact on the Tuscaloosa community to be in the neighborhood of $750,000.
As part of the championship experience, the GCAC will host its HBCU Admission Fair on Stillman’s campus, giving students from the area the opportunity to learn about HBCU culture, academics, and athletics. Students will also receive admission into the tournament the day(s) of the fair.
“Bringing on Stillman as a new member in 2024 and having them partner as a host for the 2024 tournament allows us to lay strong foundations in the communities we hold our championships,” said Baker Barnes. “Our HBCU Admission Fair brings every school to our championship and gives youth the opportunity to explore the possibilities of their future,” Baker Barnes continued. “Hosting a championship in Tuscaloosa also provides the community with an up-close view on our culture while impacting the local economy. Our schools and fans come to town and patronize stores, restaurants, hotels and other attractions. It’s more than athletics. It’s about connecting with and uplifting our communities.”
The GCAC Hope Credit Union Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships will also be broadcast on HBCU+, the livestream platform of the GCAC’s media rights partner Urban Edge Network. The broadcasts raked in over three-quarters of a million views during the 2023 championships, highlighted by back-to-back one-point title games on both the women’s and men’s sides.
“The GCAC continues to rise and create an atmosphere of excellence at all of our events,” stated Baker Barnes. “The success of our championships is due to having strong partners like Visit Tuscaloosa and our member schools. I want to thank Kelsey and the Visit Tuscaloosa team for bidding to be one of our partners and create another memorable experience for our members and fans.”