BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A little more than a month out, officials and organizers are hyping the arrival of the CIAA Tournament, an annual men's and women's basketball tournament among historically black colleges and universities that draws thousands of players, alumni and fans.
Twelve schools are in the conference, including seven in North Carolina, two in Virginia, and one each in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
After spending the last 17 years in Charlotte, the tournament is coming to Royal Farms Arena from Feb. 22-26.
"Baltimore is a basketball town through and through and this tournament will bring the best of Black America to Baltimore," said Mayor Brandon Scott. "Students and graduates of HBCUs will descend on Baltimore in just a few weeks to experience our great city and everything that we have to offer."
As city and state officials and tournament organizers stressed during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, the event is much more than a basketball tournament. Concerts headlined by DJ Jazzy Jeff, Rakim, Rare Essence and Big Daddy Kane, parties, a career expo, and an education day with high school students are all part of the package.
And the tournament will mark the return of a Baltimore hoops legend, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, who starred with the Baltimore Bullets from 1967 to 1971.
An alum of a CIAA school, Winston-Salem State University, Monroe will join fellow Hall of Famer Bob Dandridge, who played for the Bullets from 1977 to 1981, after they had moved to the Washington D.C. area, to hold a youth clinic.
"I've got the advantage of being not only a CIAA alum but also a guy who played in Baltimore," said Monroe. "So this is a double whammy, and I'm so happy and to do something with by my good friend Bobby Dandridge for the kids there."
Officials said the tournament draws more than 100,000 spectators and could have an economic impact of $50 million.
Some business owners like Tony Randall of Next Phaze Cafe say they are thrilled that the tournament is coming to Baltimore.
"Considering the fact that COVID has kind of shut down all the government buildings here and there's not been a lot of activity... hopefully that week, things will go back to normal and will give the patrons a chance to experience what we really do," Randall said.
Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said the city's tourism industry is ready to welcome guests. The group has created a BoP Pass offering discounts to Black museums, restaurants, stores and attractions.
"This is huge for Baltimore City and for the State of Maryland I'm bringing in all these student athletes, fans, alumni, students from all across the country," Hutchinson said.
The city landed the tournament in 2019, under former Mayor Catherine Pugh. Due to COVID-19, the tournaments were canceled in 2021, the first year the event was scheduled to be held in Baltimore, but the conference held a series of virtual events.
To buy tickets for the tournament, visit CIAATournament.org.
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