High School Bands Ready for Battle at Chicago Football Classic

This weekend, the Howard Bisons will take on the Hampton Pirates at the 22nd annual Chicago Football Classic at Solider Field.

The Chicago Football Classic brings historically black colleges and universities to Solider Field for what started as a football game, but has grown into much more.

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“We started the football game 22 years ago, and it was really about three guys wanting to bring a football game to the city of Chicago,” said co-founder Larry Huggins. “But after our third year we realized it was about more than a football game. It’s about our children seeking higher education. That’s why we started the college fair.”

The football classic offers students not just a college and career fair, but a battle of the bands.

“At HBCU it’s not about football games,” said band coordinator for the Chicago Football Classic Lori James. “It’s all about the halftime show, period! It’s all about the halftime. They want to see that halftime show. It’s a big deal.”

Howard and Hampton’s marching bands will compete during the halftime show. But before that, 10 Chicago area high schools will compete for cash prizes in the high school battle of the bands outside of the stadium.

It’s an all-day event for high schools competing in the classic’s battle of the bands. Thousands of students will march through Soldier field together and then line up to compete.

“They turn this field into a football field,” James said. “They put the lines down, they put the hash marks down and it’s a football field.”

Two of the schools competing are King College Prep and last year’s champs, Proviso West.

“Really it’s just our presence on the field,” said Proviso West band director Sam Atcher. “Our sound. You can just tell. Hard work, you can feel it. I think that’s why we won. We’ve participated in the last 10 years and this is the first time we won. It just clicked.”

King’s band has placed in previous years. Their band director Ben Washington says for his team, the prize is the experience.

“Seeing students that we have sent off away to college,” says King College Prep’s band director Ben Washington. “Like this year, Howard University is going to be here and one of our tuba players that graduated two years ago is playing and they’re all excited because they all still know him. Seeing that makes it more attainable for them to say I can be here next year depending on which HBCU school I attend.”

But that hasn’t stopped the two band directors from a healthy competition. When I asked about their set list, the friendly rivals shared their secret to this year’s win.  

“Our music is a secret,” Washington said. “I really don’t want to say. But we’ve got some special guests coming in.”

“’Are we going to win? Yes!” Atcher said. “That’s always got to be the answer. We can’t second guess ourselves. And I hope that’s the same attitude for competing bands as well.”

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The Chicago Football Classic kicks off Saturday at Soldier Field. The high school battle of the bands takes place at noon just outside Gate 14.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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