Prairie View A&M opens new season with new stadium in Labor Day Classic rivalry with TSU

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Labor Day Classic rivalry continues at new Prairie View stadium. (KTRK)

The University of Houston-Oklahoma football game is not the only big game in town this holiday weekend. Sunday, Prairie View A&M will open its brand new stadium against its biggest rival: Texas Southern.

This face-off goes back 70 years.

"We talk trash all year round," says Prairie View alumnus Ervin Grice. "There are other sports that we whip TSU's butt also."

Ervin Grice graduated from Prairie View in 1967. His wife, Martha, graduated in 1969. We talked to them as they proudly picked up their season tickets. The first game is the Labor Day Classic. It's the football game nobody wants to lose. Not the teams...

"TSU, they know what we did to them last year," says Prairie View senior Safety Marquice O'Leary.

"I wanna be 1-0 at the end of the game," says TSU sophomore Running Back Brad Woodard.

And not the bands don't want to lose.

"From the band perspective, I think there's no bigger rivalry in the state of Texas as far as HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)," says Prairie View's Director of Bands Dr. Tim Zachery. "You have these neighboring HBCUs that are 45 minutes apart, without traffic. And trust me, this feud's like the Hatfields and the McCoys here. It's about personal pride and school pride."

"You're gonna have to give it your all no matter what, and to always play your best, and to not let nobody out do you," explains TSU Ocean of Soul freshman Cinthya Ventura. "Especially Prairie View!"

Prairie View and TSU have played since 1946. Their annual game turned into a fight for who will be the king of the Houston area hill. The rivalry has been a Labor Day weekend tradition for since 1985. That rivalry runs deep!

"On my dad's side, a lot of people went to Prairie View. And on my mom's side, a lot of people went to TSU. So it was kind of tug of war," says Prairie View Marching Storm's sophomore Drum Major Colangelo Tolbert II.

"All my aunts went to PV. So they always bringing up the LDC. That's the only game they're looking to. Seeing me play at TSU against their alma mater," Brad Woodard tells us.

Neither school has had a traditional campus stadium large enough to host the face-off until now. This year's Classic will be the first one played on either campus as Prairie View opens the gates to its new 15,000 seat stadium.

"Class of 67, we had the old Blackshire field, 4,000-5,000 capacity. This is a big improvement," Ervin Grice says.

Prairie View administrators and coaches point to the new stadium as a symbol of growth.

"For us as a university, I think it shows that we're moving in the right direction," says Head Coach Willie Simmons. "I think this is the last phase of what the university needed to be considered a top tier institution."

"It's a great time to be a Panther," adds Provost Felicia Nave. "We just recently opened our new Ag-Business building. We are in the process of building several different facilities."

The Labor Day Classic is so much more than just a football game. When the teams hit this new field, and the fans and the bands hit these new stands, this rivalry may hit a level of intensity that the schools have never seen.

"It's pumped up. Everyone around campus is talking about it and everyone is excited. I can't wait," Marquice O'Leary said with a huge smile.

If anyone feels the divide that splits these two Historically black universities apart, it's Charles McClelland. He graduated from Prairie View, and served as their athletics director. Now he runs the athletics department at TSU.

He laughed as he shared an encounter that shows just how deep the rivalry goes.

"I attended a funeral and I opened the door for these two elderly ladies, I would say mid-seventies. And as I opened the door, they said they didn't want me to open the door for them. I was a traitor."

The game doesn't end with the fourth quarter. For the bands, halftime is their game time. After the football has been played, it's the fifth quarter: a back and forth battle of the bands that goes until one drops.

As for what will go down at this year's game, both schools are tight-lipped.

"We always have something up our sleeve for the Classic," Dr. Zachery said of the Marching Storm's plans. "But of course we're not gonna tell you that. That's a wait and see thing."

"It's gonna be a long night," adds TSU Director of Bands Clarence Gibson.

This game is billed by many as the biggest of the year.

"It's about bragging rights," Grice says. "It's a forum for camaraderie. You get to see some old friends. It's more than just a football game."

The game is Sunday at 5:00pm.

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