The Elizabeth City State University marching band prepares to take the field during the 2013 Down East Viking Football Classic at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex.
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The Elizabeth City State University marching band prepares to take the field during the 2013 Down East Viking Football Classic at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex.

City welcomes 2014 Viking Classic

By COREY DAVIS

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While the college football game is the main attraction, the totality of the Down East Viking Football Classic has become probably the highlight showcase event each year for Rocky Mount since 1998.

Lin Dawson, interim athletic director at Elizabeth City State University, said the success of the Classic has helped impact the growth of the university and Rocky Mount. Within the Down East corridor, the university has several students enrolled from Nash and Edgecombe counties, including a few recruited to play for the Vikings’ football team, Dawson added. Additions to Rocky Mount, such as the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, were helped constructed in part by the financial impact of the Classic.

“We were told by city administrators that the Classic had a big part in the building of the complex,” Dawson said. “Before (N.C.) Wesleyan College, there was no college football being played in Rocky Mount, and the Classic has made a substantial impact in the greater Rocky Mount area.”

The 17th year of the Classic between Benedict College (S.C.) against host Elizabeth City State University on Saturday afternoon at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex will climax a series of events leading to the contest. 

The festivities over the four-day week include the high school Quiz Bowl and Elizabeth City State recruitment receptions at the DoubleTree hotel, Down East Viking Golf Challenge, athletic banquet, tailgating party, pregame ceremony and high school band competition following the game.

Dawson said it is an honor to see some of the brightest students from high schools in Rocky Mount and the surrounding areas showcase their intelligence in a competitive atmosphere during the quiz bowl. He added that the recruitment receptions, with the first taking place after the Quiz Bowl today and another Saturday morning, will have administrative representatives from Elizabeth City and other universities.

“The Classic is big from an educational standpoint,” Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs said. “I think this exposes a lot of young people to schools, which a lot of them aren’t familiar with.”

Dawson added his quest is for the Classic to build a youth following for Elizabeth City State. As part of the promotion to attract a younger crowd, Dawson said the university will sell game tickets of $10 to groups having 30 or more children.

He said arrangements must be made before the game, and people looking to take part in the deal can contact Doraine Spence, director of auxiliary services at Elizabeth City State, at 252-335-3660. In addition, the university is giving a stipend to the high school bands battling after the game.

“The Classic allows the young people to get exposed to a little part of college life,” Dawson said. “The band competition allows our fans to see the talents of these young people.”

Combs said the Classic has traditionally brought out-of-town tourism to the area, which is uncommon among other local events throughout the year. Combs added the event has been a huge positive economic impact for local merchants. 

“This has given us the ability to attract a lot of people outside of the area, and showcase to those that normally don’t come to Rocky Mount,” Combs said. “For Elizabeth City State, this is like a second homecoming. There aren’t many events in Rocky Mount where we can draw 10,000 people to come in for a weekend. 

“That usually has meant a lot of heads in beds in our local hotels, people eating in our restaurants and doing some shopping at our stores.”

As much as people look forward to kickoff, Dawson said he understands the Classic allows people to come together for the social outings. 

“I would like to think as the athletic director that people are coming down just for the football, but I know this is more than just football,” Dawson said. “There are people that are going to come and not step one foot into the stadium. They’re coming to be part of the festivities. We know a big part of the Classic is the music and tailgating. I heard there was a gentlemen that has been cooking at the Classic for 50 years. 

“We also have people who have their family reunions around the Classic, and we’ve been a backdrop for those types of events.”

Dawson hopes the appeal of the classic will bring people to the game.

“I’m hoping what will transpire is that the Classic will be the place where people will want to be this weekend,” he said. 

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