bethune-cookman-marching-band_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Miami Dolphins fans no doubt left Sun Life Stadium disappointed Sunday with the home team’s 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. But they took away another kind of experience, a rare treat before the start of the game: performances by black college step teams.

“It was awesome, very exciting,” said Jennifer Mosier, 23, of Weston.

“I’ve never seen it in person. Until now, I’ve only seen it on television,” Mosier said, just after the Delta Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity of Florida Memorial University wowed the crowd with its high stepping routine at the Land Shark Tailgate Stage outside the stadium.

But it was just as much a thrill for the steppers, who had performed at many venues but never at the local football stadium.

“The crowd here is diverse,” said Michael Linder, 20, a junior International Relations major and member of the FMU Step Team. “I’m sure this was a different experience for them.”

It was all part of the Miami Dolphins’ first partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

George Torres, senior director of marketing and corporate communications, said the team decided to hold a Miami Dolphins HBCU/NPHC “Celebration Day” to expand their reach in the South Florida community with events that would attract all groups.

It was the first time the Dolphins have coupled a Step Show with a Game Day experience. As far as they were aware, no other NFL team had done it.

The idea appeared to have worked. Fans in the AT&T Grand Plaza seemed mesmerized when the Steppers took the stage. Two additional Step Teams performed: the Epsilon Mu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity from FMU and the Beta Beta Lambda graduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha of Miami.

Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach sent its Wildcat Marching Band to give a riveting halftime performance.

Sandra Thompson, FMU’s interim president, was thrilled to participate with the Dolphins. Thompson, along with Miss Florida Memorial University, Morisa Jagrup, and Miss Senior, Briana Hubbard, and other members of the university, were part of the pre-game show. They joined hundreds of others in holding up an oversized flag.

“It is very important to our students to have an opportunity to connect with such an outstanding organization such as the Miami Dolphins. It means a lot to the university, as well as to our students,” she said.

“This goes a long way to highlight HBCUs because a lot of people don’t know who we are and what we do. It’s important to know just how important we are to the nation,” she said, donning a Dolphins t-shirt as she awaited the start of the pre-game ceremony.

Nigel Burton, 22, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Step Team that performed, agreed with Thompson.

“I don’t think that HBCUs get as much recognition as they should, so I feel this was a great idea. A lot of people don’t know about stepping. They think we’re just a bunch of frat boys but we’re much more than that. We’re a league of extraordinary gentlemen,” said the senior, a finance major who has his sights on a career on Wall Street.

The Dolphins got rave reviews from current and former players for showcasing historically black colleges and Greek organizations. Kendall Langford, a third-year defensive end whom the Dolphins drafted in 2008, attended an HBCU: Hampton University in Virginia. He was recruited by major universities such as Virginia and Virginia Tech but saw much smaller Hampton as a good fit for him.  He described the experience at Hampton as “one of a kind.” He
graduated with a degree in Sports Management.

“I think it’s great,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s making people aware of the HBCUs. It makes me feel good about the Dolphins. They’re reaching out to the black colleges and universities and showing everybody love. They’re showing that they care about the entire community.”

While many players are drafted into the league from larger colleges and universities, Langford said, the NFL does find talent at the HBCUs. “I’m one of those who made it from an HBCU,” he said. 

Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson and member of the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll, said he was proud to be part of an organization that cared about everyone in the community.  Although he did not attend an HBCU, he said, he is a friend of FMU.

“I think it’s very important to the Miami Dolphins,” he said during Sunday’s game, as he watched from the sidelines. “They want to show that they’re including everybody. They want to reach out to the whole community. A lot of the guys that play in the league, as well as when I played, came from historically black colleges. And many members of the community attended HBCUs and they’d like to know that they’re included. It’s just another way to show everybody that they appreciate them.”

One of the most fascinating moments of the day came during halftime, when members of the Bethune Cookman band marched in formation in the outline of a dolphin as a tribute to their hosts, to loud applause.

Vernon Martin, director of student activities at FMU, coordinated the performances of students and steppers from the university.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to said it was a great day,” Martin said. “The only thing that could’ve made it better was a win. Other than that, everything was fantastic.”

Dolphins spokesman Torres said this was not a one-time event. The team planned to expand its efforts in coming seasons.

“We certainly hope to make this an annual tradition,” Torres said.

ALAN LUBY/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. High Stepping performance: Bethune Cookman band leaves fans in awe. The Bethune Cookman Wildcat Marching Band wows the crowd with a riveting half time performance. The Wildcat band formed themselves into a dolphin, as a tribute to their hosts, leaving fans in awe.