Commentary: March Madness has arrived and it is time to crown the champions

Commentary: March Madness has arrived and it is time to crown the champions
March 16
14:24 2022

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

My love for basketball started many years ago. Maybe it is because I grew up surrounded by basketball.

Basketball was taken seriously in my city of Winston-Salem and in the state of North Carolina. It was a fun time of year and bragging rights were at stake. This was before the moniker “March Madness.”

Back in the day, schools like Winston-Salem Teachers College (now State University) and North Carolina A&T (now State University) were simply called Black colleges. The slogan, HBCU, had not been popularized.

It is recent and is now widely used.

Within an 85-mile radius there were other Black colleges like North Carolina Central University, Shaw University and Johnson C. Smith University.

There were white colleges like Wake Forest University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina that were also within that radius. They are now called Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).

The Black colleges were in the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) and the white colleges were in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference).

For Black people like me, the rivalry between Winston-Salem Teachers College and North Carolina A&T was hugely popular. People from all over the region would be there. My friends and I would walk to the game because we lived so close to the campus. In fact, I lived around the corner from legendary coach, Clarence “Big House” Gaines. His wife, Mrs. Clara Gaines, was my high school Latin teacher.

There were outstanding players over the years on both teams. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Ted Blunt for Winston-Salem State and Hugh Evans for NC A&T. Earl Monroe had an outstanding career in the NBA. Critics have called Ted Blunt the greatest point guard in CIAA history. Hugh Evans was a great basketball player at NC A&T and later became a stellar NBA official.

If you are old school like me, and familiar with basketball in North Carolina, you know the term “tobacco road.” This term was attributed to basketball and because tobacco was an economic staple in the area. While originally coined as a white term, I believe it applies equally to Black basketball in the state as well. North Carolina was and still is a hotbed of basketball.

The Black colleges participated in the CIAA Tournament and the white colleges in the ACC Tournament. The CIAA Tournament had its early beginning in Winston-Salem. It was held recently in Baltimore, Maryland. If you have never attended a CIAA Tournament, please put it on your to-do list. It is a must-see event.

Tournament winners and at-large selections go to either the NCAA tournament or to the NAIA tournament. The selection shows are worth getting your soda and popcorn, as they produce both joy for the winners and heartbreak for those not selected.

There are other sporting events, yet when all is said and done, nothing beats March Madness. This is my opinion.

HBCU fans, find out where your favorite teams are playing. Some could be in the NCAA tournament divisions while others could be in the NAIA tournament. Increasingly, teams from the CIAA, MEAC, SWAC and SIAC are getting more television time. This is good for alumni and their overall college communities.

If you are interested in the biggest dance at the NCAA Division I level, then scream for your favorite team. Right now, in my opinion, there are no clear favorites. If you get in, you have a chance.

If you recall, Hampton University upset Iowa in 2001 and in 2012 Norfolk State University upset Missouri. As another bit of history, UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) upset Virginia in 2018.

Will there be upsets? Oh yes, there will be upsets. That is the beauty of it. The exhilaration of victory and the pain of defeat.

That is why it’s called “March Madness.”

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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