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Families Continue Rich HBCU Heritage Beyond Football Classic

For some the State Fair Classic is a family tradition spanning several generations

By Sylvia Dunnavant Hines

Hattie Wayne , Cathy Conwrigh and Shelia Williams
Hattie Wayne, Cathy Conwright and Shelia Williams in (high chair). The Wayne family has been recognized locally and nationally for being published in the Guinness Book of World Records. This photo was taken after a taping of a segment for WFAA TV Channel 8 -Dallas.

For years Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been looked at as having a principal mission of educating Black Americans.

As the State Fair Classic game approaches, two HBCUS – Prairie View A & M University and Grambling State University are showing that a rich Black family heritage of education is also enhanced by a deep connection to football.

“As a child in Dallas, every year my parents took us to the State Fair Classic Game in the Cotton Bowl,” said Kimberley Runnels, who has served with both the National and Dallas Alumni Associations for Prairie View. “This started from the earliest time that I can remember attending a football game.

“It was from the early 70s with Bishop College through the 80s with Grambling. This went on into the 90s, when I graduated from Prairie View, although at that time we never won a game, but I was still attending every game and so were my parents.

For Runnels who has been attending the State Fair Classic game for about 40 years, the game is more than just football. It is about continuing a legacy and supporting her alma mater.

“To say that we are connected to the game is putting it mildly. The Runnels family bleeds purple and gold,” said Runnels.

With Prairie View winning the last four consecutive games, this year’s State Fair Classic game gives added hope to Runnels and her relatives that will be attending.
“We are excited about Coach Leonard “Bubba” McDowell,” she said. “He has NFL experience. He played for the Houston Oilers and the Carolina Panthers. He has also been a PV assistant coach. They felt that he was ready to be the head coach and we are behind him. We feel good about the game.”

The Runnels family
The Runnels family makes supporting Prairie View at football games a family affair.(left to right) Tony Runnels, Erin Runnels, Kimberley Runnels,Tony Runnels Jr. and Felecia Runnels.

Actually Runnels is very optimistic about the outcome of the game.

“I don’t have any doubts that Prairie View will be the victor on October first,” predicts Runnels, who is also a Prairie View season ticket holder.

Runnels admits that her family’s commitment to Prairie View extends beyond the upcoming rival game. They are dedicated to the financial support of the university as well.

“In the same weekend as the game ,the Dallas Prairie View Alumni Chapter will host our annual scholarship gala. In fact, this is the 27th year for the gala. We started the gala to fund athletic scholarships.

“We made a four-year pledge of $200,000 to assist the Prairie View A & M Foundation in the building of the new stadium. In the history of our scholarship fund we have given Prairie View over a million dollars just from our little chapter,” said Runnels, who is chairperson for the gala which will be held at the Renaissance Hotel, the evening prior to the State Fair Classic game.

The announcement of the construction of the new Panther Stadium at Blackshear Field was made in 2014. The 15,000-seat stadium holds 10 skyboxes/suites and 500 premium seats, a field house featuring a large weight room, a dining area, academic support space, and other amenities. The total cost for the stadium was over 60 million dollars.

Kimberly Runnels
Kimberly Runnels is following in her mother’s footsteps by bringing pom poms to cheer Prairie View A & M University on at their home games.

Hattie Wayne’s family will also be among the generations celebrating this year’s State Fair Classic game.

“I went to a Grambling meeting and some of the people were talking about all their family members that had gone to Grambling. Of course, many of them were graduates. As they were talking, I realized that I had a lot more family members that had attended than the people who were talking. I also knew that over the years our family had a large number of cousins that were graduates of Grambling. After the meeting, I came home and pulled up the Guinness Book of World Records,” said Wayne, who worked to have her family’s historic accomplishment recognized.

In 2014 the Wayne family from Marion, LA was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for the most family members to graduate from the same university. Their family had 40 members who graduated from Grambling University between 1956 to 2010.

The Wayne Family has been recognized in the Senate and US House of Representatives for their significant achievement. However, they are not resting on their laurels. They are paying it forward with a $100,000 endowment pledge through the Wayne Family Hardship Scholarship Fund, which is allocated for graduate students of Grambling University that may need financial assistance while continuing their education.

“We need to tell our story, because we have a lot to tell,” said Wayne, who desires to have a documentary to highlight their academic accomplishment. She would also like to have a building named after her family in honor of their academic success at Grambling.

Family commitments like those of the Runnels and the Wayne families are becoming crucial in these economically challenging times. Over the last few decades, there have been a number of HBCUs in the United States experiencing a decline in attendance and funding; however most recently, there has been a spike in attendance and more donations from philanthropists.

“Having our families involved makes it that more special for me. My father played football for Prairie View one season. Seeing his reaction when we go to the game makes it more exciting,” said Runnels. “My mom used to wave her pom poms at the games. Now I carry my own pom poms to the home games. These experiences have created some great memories. I think that it is important that we celebrate our high academics, and we celebrate our athletics.”

WHAT: State Fair Classic
WHO: Grambling State and Prairie View A&M University
WHEN: October 1, 2022
WHERE: Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX

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