A Wonderous Week In Winston-Salem

By Bonitta Best
Updated: March 19, 2009

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The MEAC just might have something. The tournament just completed its first year in Winston-Salem, and by all indications, the move is paying off.

Although numbers for the weeklong event haven’t been released yet, from this observer’s viewpoint, the conference office should be quite happy. That’s saying something in this economy and in a new city.

“We are pleased to be here,” Commissioner Dennis Thomas said. “The city has embraced us, people have been hospitable and helpful, and the media has been much more favorable.”

That last statement was an obvious dig at the Raleigh media that spent most of its time comparing the MEAC to the CIAA, which is what deluded the city into bidding for the tourney in the first place. But the conference has learned a thing or two as well since then.

It wasted little time ingratiating itself into a Winston-Salem community thirsting for something new. It challenged local schools in a book-reading contest, with almost 6,700 books being read by 10 schools.

Needless to say The Tom Joyner Morning Show, Michael Baisden, Doug E Fresh and the Greek step shows were sell-out hits. But the telling numbers were at the 14,407-seat Lawrence Joel Coliseum. During the early part of the week, it appeared to be another “uh-oh” year – “Uh oh, they made a mistake.”

However, attendance increased as the week went on, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday being particularly fruitful. Most of the credit goes to N.C. A&T and Norfolk State for having faithful and traveling fans.

If the Aggie men hadn’t blown it by losing in the quarterfinal game to Coppin State, Joel might have sold out.

Leave it to the ladies to come through, eh?

League of her own

And speaking of the ladies, A&T coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs is in a class by herself. Everywhere that woman goes, she turns out winners: Grambling (two SWAC titles); Hampton (three MEAC titles); and A&T (one).

Aggies may want to forget that when Bibbs took over, the program was about as embarrassing as the football team going 0-22. I remember thinking “Why would she want to sully her career record by going to Greensboro?”

Shows what I know.

Bibbs has a career record of 448-225, and she’s only finished below .500 four times in her 23-year career. The Lady Aggies solidified themselves among the mid-major elite after defeating UNC Charlotte in Charlotte.

But Bibbs most shining moment occurred last year after A&T was upset in the final by Coppin State. Most coaches of her stature and, yes, ego, would have tried to downplay the loss, but Bibbs wasn’t ashamed to show just how truly hurt she was.

One observer at that press conference told me, “Most coaches don’t like her because they think she’s got a chip on her shoulder. But that loss showed everyone that she really is human.”

The Lady Aggies received some measure of respect by getting a No. 14 seed in the NCAA. They take on Florida State this weekend at 2:30 p.m. “We don’t care who we’re playing, we will be ready,” Bibbs said at the postgame press conference.

Don’t ever count out a Bibbs-coached team.