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Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M will face off at the Florida Classic a week after Nicole

Photo credit: Florida Citrus Sports
Photo credit: Florida Citrus Sports

Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M Universities will face off at Camping World Stadium on Saturday for the Florida Classic, marking 25 years of the matchup in Orlando. But this year, the big weekend comes after 2 storms hit Volusia County and Central Florida hard this hurricane season. WMFE's Talia Blake caught up with BCU’s interim president Lawrence Drake to talk about the economic impact of Classic weekend.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

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Lawrence Drake is the interim president and Dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Bethune Cookman University. (photo via: Lawrence Drake)[/caption]

Classic Weekend after two storms

Bethune Cookman resumed in-person classes on October 14, two weeks after Hurricane Ian hit Central Florida. Less than a month later, Tropical Storm Nicole arrived bringing even more damage to parts of Volusia County.

Hurricane Ian flooded BCU's campus, leaving behind downed trees and other debris, and damaged some buildings. Lawrence Drake, interim president at BCU, said they're still assessing the damage from both Ian and Nicole.

And he said they’re excited about the game, but keeping recovery from the storm in mind.

"Now, the game, of course, means a lot to us that weekend means a lot to us. And it is more than just a game. It's about community," he said. "This kind of tradition has been just a tremendous boom for the economy of the community that surrounds Orlando. But, the two storms keep this whole thing in context."

Drake said they're using using school fund and donations to finance the recovers process. "We're also looking to FEMA and other sources longer term to provide financial support, and the state."

Benefit to the economy and Florida HBCUs

The Florida Classic isn't just about the rivalry game. It's a weekend full of events, like theBattle of the Bands.

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Florida A&M University Marching 100 (photo: Florida Classic Twitter)[/caption]

Between people staying in hotels, spending money at local restaurants and businesses, Classic weekend brings in between $26 million and $28 million into the economy, according to Drake.

This year is on track to see similar numbers as ticket sales are ahead of last year. "And that's coming out of COVID," said Drake.

Florida Classic is owned and operated by both BCU and FAMU, which means all proceeds of the official events benefit the campus directly.

Drake said that money goes directly to benefiting students at both schools. "Providing everything from scholarships to student activities to their way of life," he said.

Prepping for the game with a closed campus

Bethune Cookman found ways to work around a shut down campus during Hurricane Ian.

Drake said the football team traveled and practiced where they could. "They stayed away for almost two weeks."

Drake said BCU set up accommodations, food and other amenities, including practice facilities at all of the neighboring universities.

"For example, when they were playing Tennessee State, we used Vanderbilt's facilities for training (and) weightlifting," he said.

As for the band, they were among the first wave of students allowed back on campus after Hurricane Ian passed. Drake said they didn't miss a beat when they returned.

"They were absolutely fabulous at the Jackson State game that we played in Jacksonville right after Ian. Just a tribute to the band director Jonathan Wells and his team," he said.

Drake said BCU is ready for Classic Weekend as Wildcats are resilient.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.