The 49th annual Bayou Classic is set for this Saturday on NBC and everyone in Louisiana is excited, especially the ROTC departments at Southern University and Grambling State University. What makes this event so special for those particular groups? Every year, the day before the football game, Southern University Army and Naval ROTC and the Grambling State University ROTC come together to run the Bayou Classic game football from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Louisiana. This tradition dates back 30 years to 1992, originated by army cadets and midshipmen from Southern University. Every year, the participants start their journey at 5:00am on Friday at the Southern University F.G. Clark Activity Center, and this year is no exception.
Jaguar Battalion Professor of Military Science, David Marshall Jr., says this football carry is incredibly special and creates a sense of nostalgia and a connection to the past each year admist the rivalry on the football field between Southern and Grambling State Universities. He, along with the SU Army and Navy ROTC staff, are adamant about doing the run each year in order to preserve its history.
“Mission first, Jaguars always,” Marshall said of the tradition.
Choosing the runners is an essential and involved process. Marshall says the runners are selected based on physical fitness abilities and academic excellence throughout the school year, and there are a total of 40 runners between three ROTC programs this year. The route from Baton Rouge to the Caesars Superdome may sound like it takes all day, but it actually takes about seven and a half hours to make it to New Orleans from Southern University.
Jeff Ejekam, the event coordinator and event liaison for the Southern University Army ROTC Program, said the group will travel along Highway 61, going 80 miles to New Orleans, with the help of the Louisiana State Troopers to be escorted safely. He added that each cadet will run between 200 to 400 meters each time they possess the ball and once their leg is completed, they will hand the ball off to the next cadet. Upon arrival at the Superdome, home to the Bayou Classic football game and the New Orleans Saints, the participants run on the field to the 50-yard line to meet with representatives of the sponsors of the Bayou Classic, Proctor and Gamble.
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ROTC Battalion Commander Serena Herbert said that what excites her most about the run is the opportunity to partake in a tradition that has happened for so long alongside her battle buddies. The run involves team building and is a unique opportunity to strengthen bonds between the branches that aren’t working together day in and day out. She considers the experience to be a personal competition to improve on her previous run, last fall semester, by saving time and finding ways to improve. She keeps herself motivated in the run by constantly uplifting herself and her battle buddies. When taking part in this historic tradition, it astonishes her how much spirit and teamwork everyone pours in, the unity and greatness that both Universities put in for this traditional run. The the legacy continues on with her and her battle buddies, and when leaving the program and commission, they will always rejoice in the fact that they were able to embark in something bigger than all of them and add a chapter to the tradition carried by many people before them.
Southern and Grambling will face off Saturday, November 27th at 2pm ET on NBC and Peacock. Halftime of Saturday’s game will include a presentation of the Battle of the Bands, the celebrated tradition between the Southern and Grambling State marching bands.
Author’s Note: Jasmine Elliott is a graduating senior at Southern University, aspiring sportswriter and broadcaster studying Mass Communications with a focus in Broadcast Journalism. You can follow her on instagram @jasminenicole_._._ or watch her packages on her LinkedIn.