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Schools stomp for students in L.A.

The Angel City Classic is about football, talented marching bands and touting opportunities offered by black universities and colleges.

September 09, 2007|Myron Levin | Times Staff Writer

At Prairie View A&M and North Carolina A&T universities, the marching bands are well-oiled machines and a source of enormous pride. The football teams -- not so much.

Bands and football squads squared off Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, highlighting a festival that was really about marketing the historically black colleges and raising their profiles on the West Coast.

The second annual Angel City Classic was a daylong, feel-good event that showcased a variety of arts and sports, including a step show exhibition and performances by drum lines from area high schools.

Outside the coliseum, Prairie View and North Carolina A&T officials and alumni dispensed literature from large booths and talked up the schools to prospective students and parents. Indeed, the periphery of the coliseum was a tent city of booths, some manned by military recruiters as well as representatives from community colleges and black fraternities and sororities. Vendors at other booths hawked food, crafts and T-shirts. About 40,000 people attended.

Byron Simpson, 27, a computer and software engineer for NASA and local chapter president of the North Carolina A&T alumni association, was there to sing the praises of the school that he said "pretty much changed my life and molded me."

Simpson, who lives in Lancaster and works at Edwards Air Force Base, touted the black college experience as uniquely supportive and culturally enriching.

"Most everyone in the school is going to look like them," contributing to an "overall sense of family," he said. "It helps the person understand who they are, and their heritage."

At Prairie View, said Associate Provost Don Byars, black students "are going to be in the majority as far as their ethnicity, so the opportunities they have are going to be expanded" -- whether that means becoming class president or the band's drum major.

"It's the heritage, it's the cultural experience, it's the black experience that a student will get" at a historically black college, he said.

Among those shopping was Thomas Jackson, 52, a Los Angeles Police Department officer who lives in Rialto. Jackson says he hopes to send one of his two teenage sons to a predominantly African American school, based on the positive experience of some family members at black colleges.

Tiffany Turner, 17, a senior at the Los Angeles charter school Wallis Annenberg High, said that if she leaves home for college rather than attend locally, she hopes to enroll in one of the historically black colleges. It would be "a great experience," she said.

With about 10,500 undergraduate and graduate students, North Carolina A&T in Greensboro boasts of turning out more African American engineers than any other U.S. institution. Prairie View, near Houston, has about 8,300 students. The schools are among the largest of the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities.

Many of the schools have been struggling to attract talented black students who are increasingly being courted by predominantly white schools striving for greater diversity. Many black schools are avidly courting Latino and white students to stabilize their enrollments.

To showcase an aspect of black campus life, members of local chapters of Greek-letter sororities and fraternities mounted a stage near mid-field in a step show exhibition.

"Stepping," featured in the film "Stomp the Yard," combines chanting with elements of modern and traditional African dance moves performed with the rhythmic precision of drill routines.

Members of six sororities and fraternities performed, including a team from Kappa Alpha Psi. The group, which has appeared on TV shows and in films, enjoys getting paid but really does it for fun, according to member Jason "Barzini" Hannans. "It's a way of showing love and honor for our fraternities," he said.

Edward Carter, who represented Iota Phi Theta, said "competing and just practicing with your brothers brings you closer together."

Oh, and Prairie View stepped all over North Carolina by a score of 22 to 7.

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myron.levin@latimes.com

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