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Grand celebration greets stadium

September 24, 2006

Grand celebration greets stadium
By LINDA H. LAMB

Benedict boosters show spirit.

They cheered for their school, paraded their pride and invoked God's grace for their guys on the gridiron.

Benedict College dedicated its new football stadium Saturday in a whirl of gold and purple, with a day full of events for students, supporters, fans and dignitaries.

People had high hopes for everything from a spiffed-up community around the new stadium on Two Notch Road, to a future football championship.

Just after noon, Yasmeen Hameen tied gold and purple crepe paper on trees rimming the old "Dust Bowl" practice field on the Harden Street campus.

"Most people are very excited," said Hameen, 24, a therapeutic recreation major at the college.

She said even though the football team has been playing at a middle-school stadium, fans never lost their spirit.

"Hopefully we can transfer that spirit right on over across Two Notch," she said.

That's where a crowd of about 200 headed after a pep rally in 90-degree heat. Led by a motorcycle policeman and an ROTC honor guard, they paraded up Oak and Read streets in a procession that included the man of the day - Charlie W. Johnson, for whom the new stadium is named.

Scores of people lined the route, some in lawn chairs, to admire the spectacle. Students brandished yellow megaphones, posters, small footballs and gold and purple balloons. "I love BC," they chanted as they walked past the neat, new garden apartments on Read Street.

Politicians have been saying the new stadium, part of a planned 61-acre recreational complex, will boost renewal of the Two Notch area. Some students were mindful of that, too.

"We are very proud and very happy," said Joshua Stroman, 21, a political science major from Columbia.

"We want people to understand that the progress we're celebrating is also progress for the city," he said. "What's good for us is good for the community."

When the marchers reached the new stadium, they found a vivid green oasis amid construction equipment, piles of dirt and drainage pipes. College officials noted there's still some work to be done. The Tigers had to play their Aug. 25 opener back at Bolden Stadium behind W.A. Perry Middle School when the new stadium was not ready in time.

But that didn't matter Saturday. At a late-afternoon dedication service, Benedict boosters from near and far were intent on savoring the moment. About 1,500 attended and participated.

College president David Swinton said he envisioned a gleaming stadium when he worked to resurrect the football team and marching band after their long absence from 1965 to 1995. He thanked all who supported the college in the quest.

As of Saturday, that group included Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He was introduced by state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, as a possible presidential candidate. Dodd praised Swinton and Johnson, and declared his support for the nation's historically black colleges and universities.

Columbia City Councilman E.W. Cromartie and Richland County Councilman Paul Livingston pledged to work for continued improvements to the stadium's new surroundings.

"We understand that this place is more than just a place to play football, but an economic tool for our community," Livingston said.

The crowd seemed to enjoy stirring anthems by the marching band and a choir that blended Benedict's gospel choir with 13 others from area schools and churches.

Sitting near the 50-yard line was a contingent from Johnson's home church back in Louisville, Ky. They came to share the experience with Johnson and his wife, Bettie, and to take some lessons back home.

"He's such a good role model," said one of his Kentucky friends, Joanna Smith.

"We'll take pictures (of the stadium ceremony) and go back and show the young people what you can do in life if you focus."

There was plenty of praise for Johnson, who chairs Benedict's board of trustees. A businessman whose career includes time in pro football as well as time with the Peace Corps, he has donated about $2 million to the college, including a $1 million gift that started the stadium fundraising.

Johnson surveyed his gleaming namesake, shook hands, received plaques and saw the unveiling of his portrait. But when it was his turn to talk, he was brief.

He said many people had faith in the project, and that's why the dream turned into bricks, mortar, goal posts and turf.

"If you believe in God, all things are possible," he said.

"That's what the Word says."

Source: The State Newspaper

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