Marines make positive impact during 2006 CIAA tournament
By Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | March 05, 2006
CHARLOTTE, N.C. --
For a fifth consecutive year, the Marine Corps seized the chance to spread its message of opportunity and leadership to thousands of young men and women during the 61st Annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s (CIAA) tournament held here Feb. 27 through March 4, 2006.
More than 122,000 people flocked to North Carolina’s largest city for this year’s men’s and women’s basketball tournament. Twelve historically black colleges and universities competed: Bowie State University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Livingstone College, North Carolina Central University, St. Augustine's College, St. Paul's College, Shaw University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, and Winston-Salem State University.
In an attempt to spread the message of opportunity to a diverse group of leaders, influencers and students, more than 60 Marines participated in event marketing venues, media interviews, high-profile luncheons and dinners, college basketball awards ceremonies and made youth-oriented appearances throughout the week.
“We are proud of our five-year history with the CIAA. The venues provide an excellent opportunity for us to spread our message to the African-American community,” said Major General Walter E. Gaskin, commanding general, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Quantico, Va. “The Marine Corps was able to recognize individuals from the competing schools and joined in the celebration of spirit, sportsmanship and teamwork.”
One of the many events that kicked off the week was an interactive forum and awards ceremony for more than 200 youth. The event took place at the Carole A. Hoefener Community Services Center and was for the Urban League of Central Carolina and several Charlotte youth for their efforts in school and their communities.
“The United States Marine Corps is truly proud of the many young people who are excelling in school and doing things to make a difference in their communities,” said Major General Cornell Wilson, director of Reserve Affairs Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps. “I encourage you all to continue to become the leaders that we all know you are.”
Each award recipient received a glass plaque from the Marine Corps with the words, “Excellence in Leadership” etched across the award. The students were happy to be awarded.
“It feels good to be acknowledged for something you normally don’t get recognized for - that‘s getting good grades,” said Jerry Bowen, a 15-year-old high school student from Charlotte High School.
For some students in the audience, the forum even sparked an interest to possibly enlist in the future.
“After today, I’m going to expand my thoughts about being a Marine,” said Lorenzo Mcilwain, a 15-year-old Charlotte native. “But for now, I’m going to have to start stepping out more and take the initiative in becoming more of a leader.”
Throughout the week, the Marines ran three interactive marketing booths. All booths featured a pull-up challenge and offered promotional items such as t-shirts, carabineer key chains, posters and key chain lanyards. Also, the team Marines #25 show car was on display and participants were able to experience driving a racecar in the team’s simulator.
“I’m into drag racing and I’d really like to have one of these racing simulators in my house,” said James Wright a part-time high school football coach at Bethel HS in Hampton, Va.
In addition to the interactive marketing venues, Marine representatives attended several key luncheons and dinners that gave them the opportunity to share their experiences with community leaders, CEOs of large companies and key figures in the African-American community.
The President and CEO of Coca Cola, North America, Donald R. Knauss, was a featured guest speaker at one dinner. During his opening remarks he highlighted the efforts of the Marines in attendance and attributed the beginning of his leadership to the Marine Corps. According to Knauss, he was a Marine Officer from 1976 to 1981. During his time in the Marines, Knauss learned very early that taking care of your people is one of the key values of leadership
“The Marine Corps was a leadership training ground for me,” Knauss said. “I believe the value of a leader includes integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion and humanity.”
The recruiting booths and key influencer functions were a success for the Marine Corps, however, the most rewarding event that provided a lot of exposure for officer and enlisted recruiting was involvement with the basketball games.
“This basketball tournament provided an excellent opportunity for the Corps to generate awareness for minority officers and promoted a greater amount of awareness within Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” said Eric Lindsay, diversity coordinator for MCRC.
A key role the Marines played during the tournament was awarding the most valuable players of each winning team an “Excellence in Leadership” award in front of their peers and the audience.
“I feel honored to receive this award, it feels good to be highlighted for my work,” said Mitchell Moffatt, forward for Elizabeth City State University the team’s MVP. “I just came out tonight and put in a little hard work and it paid off.”
The final highlight of the week-long evolution was pep talks to the players by senior Marine officers and the opening ceremony for the championship games where a court-sized American flag was unfurled for the National Anthem.
Overall, the Marine Corps’ partnership with CIAA proved to be a success. The Corps increased awareness for recruitment and CIAA representatives expressed their gratitude of joining forces with the Marines.
“I have always said there is a price for freedom and that’s the reason why Americans are free, because there are men and women willing to put their lives on the line to protect it. I believe in a safe America and that every young man and woman should serve in the military,” said Leon Kerry, CIAA commissioner. “This is our chance to showcase what the Marine Corps and the other services are about and to inspire today’s youth to not take freedom for granted.”