Last week, Baltimore hosted the 2023 CIAA Basketball Tournament and the "Charm City" was in all of its glory for the entire week of festivities. The city boasts a burgeoning Black metropolis full of progressive creatives, artists, politicians, and entrepreneurs who are committed to telling the stories of its rich cultural identity and creating new narratives about its future. With a storied history of being one the major locales of the abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights struggle, and Women’s Rights, the marriage of Baltimore and the CIAA is a perfect match. Held at the newly renovated CFG Bank Arena (formerly the Royal Forms Arena), the week-long tournament culminated in two exciting final games last Saturday that thrilled the thousands that were in attendance.

In the Women’s Championship game, Elizabeth City State triumphed over Shaw University 55-40 for its first-ever CIAA basketball title in a hotly contested defensive battle. Because of their victory, the Vikings (20-10 overall) earned the league’s automatic bid in the NCAA Division II Tournament in the Atlantic Region. Dy’Jhanik Armfield led Elizabeth City with 13 points, Maryam Hashim chipped in 10 points, and NyAsia Blango was named the Food Lion Tournament MVP. 

After the victory, Coach Tyneshia Lewis recalled a conversation she had with her mother after suffering a defeat recently that inspired her and her team. “My mom told me when we lost to Shaw a week ago, ‘You ain’t seen what’s about to happen,’” Lewis said. “When momma says that, I’m good to go. No matter what it looks like.”

Blango, Armfield and King were also selected to the CIAA All-Tournament team along with Ny Langley (Virginia Union), Raija Todd (Virginia State), Kania Pollock (Lincoln, PA), Shaniya Jones (Johnson C. Smith), Tori Reid (Johnson C. Smith) Brittney Seymour (Shaw) and Tanayja London (Shaw).

 Additionally, Johnson C. Smith University Women's team won the Team Sportsmanship Award

On the men’s side, the Winston-Salem State Rams pulled away late in the second half to defeat the Lincoln University (PA) Lions 62-57. The victory was the Ram's 13th CIAA championship and their second since 2020. Leading the Rams, Samage Teel poured in 14 points with Jaylon Gibson and Jon Hicklin adding 11 points each.

After the game, Coach Cleo Hill Jr. spoke about the renowned basketball history of Winston-Salem and the high expectations that the program sets for itself.

"You cannot come [to Winston-State Salem] and not expect to win division championships and conference championships and advance to the NCAA Tournament," Hill said after the game. "It's just part of the deal when you are a coach here or a player here."

Alston, Gibson, and Teel were named to the CIAA Men's All-Tournament Team along with Tre Richardson (Elizabeth City State), Kaleb Coleman (Fayetteville State), Bakir Cleveland (Lincoln PA), Reggie Hudson (Lincoln PA), Jamari Roberts (Shaw), Robert Osborne (Virginia Union), and Keleaf Tate (Virginia Union).

The Shaw University Men's team won CIAA Sportsmanship Award.

In true HBCU fashion, the entertainment between games and the halftime show was epic. Baltimore native Lil Mo had the audience buzzing while singing a medley of her hits and Tamar Braxton, who was born in nearby Severn, Maryland, gave a showstopping performance. In honor of hip hop’s 50th anniversary, the legendary duo Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick performed snippets of their classic song that electrified the crowd.

One of the most anticipated events of the week was the John B. McLendon CIAA Hall of Fame Class of 2023, which enshrined all women for the first time. Inductees include Allyson (Hardy) Dobbins of Bowie State’s University Women’s Basketball team, Jessica Hawkins of Shaw University’s Women’s Basketball team, Barbara Pierre of St. Augustine’s University Track & Field, and Cross Country team, and the 1987-1988 Women’s Basketball Team of Hampton University.

Over the course of the tournament, EBONY caught up with several stakeholders who have a vested interest in the flourishing of Baltimore and of HBCUs including Tchernavia Rocker, Chief People, and Culture Officer at Under Armour which has its headquarters in the city. She shared the company’s ties to the city and its investment in the public schools and Morgan State University.

"Under Armour has called Baltimore home since nearly the beginning and there is just no place quite like home. As Chief Administrative Officer, I’m committed to helping nurture and develop a culture rooted in brand values and transparency," she told EBONY. "The people and the surrounding community of Baltimore are a critical part of UA’s culture. It is part of the reason we committed to deepening the relationships with organizations and universities in our backyard like Morgan State University and Project Rampart with Baltimore Public Schools."

"The Morgan State University partnership serves as a blueprint for our future HBCU partnerships and growth. We’re committed to deepening the relationship beyond outfitting athletes on the court. We want to support them in the classroom and on the job. The Career Combine is a step towards that commitment and we’re excited to be expanding that opportunity to all our HBCU partner schools and the 12 CIAA schools this year," she continued.

Rocker also spoke about the importance of Under Amour's partnership with the CIAA and why the tournament is a significant event to showcase the brand's latest innovations.

"In 2018, we announced our partnership with CIAA as the exclusive apparel, footwear, and equipment brand of the CIAA and that extends into the CIAA Tournament," she noted. "That partnership was born out of the same mission and vision that fuels everything that we do—we want to inspire athletes to be better by using performance solutions they can’t live without. Athletes are at the center of everything we do.

NBA legend Baron Davis also shared about his ongoing efforts to support initiatives for HBCUs and how the NBA has taken on a major role in the use of its global platform.

“HBCU is an underserved ecosystem,” he said. “My goal is to partner with HBCUs and bring opportunities that can benefit the schools."  

“The NBA is stepping up and providing visibility by giving HBCUs access to their fan base and players are now shining a light on those athletes,” he continued. “It will be a great relationship and that’s why I love the NBA. They move first with action

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott praised his city for the outpouring of positive energy that was on display over the week and for hosting the thousands of people who came during the week. According to Scott, Baltimore is the perfect home for the CIAA Tournament.

“When you talk about Black excellence that’s what the CIAA is all about,” Scott told EBONY. "In Baltimore, we're so proud of our culture, and combining with the CIAA and HBCUs moves Black forward. If you’re talking about Blackness in America, think about the legacies of Fredrick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Elijah Cummings, and all the other Black Baltimorians that have changed this world, what better place to have the CIAA Tournament than in Baltimore? It fits like Old Bay and crabs. That’s what the CIAA and Baltimore do together.”