The annual Eagle-Aggie Classic that kicks off the football season for two of North Carolina’s most storied historically Black colleges and universities will present a different type of winner well before the final tally on the scoreboard.

The Eagle-Aggie Classic between North Carolina A&T State University and North Carolina Central University was first officially recognized in 1994, but the two football teams have been bumping helmets in the gridiron since 1924.

This month, school officials announced that the longtime rivalry between the two schools that are about 55 miles apart along the I-85 corridor will now include a battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first (and hopefully last) Eagle-Aggie Crush COVID Competition, which began July 1 and will continue through September 17, is encouraging faculty, staff, and students of the two schools “to do their part by getting a COVID-19 vaccine to ensure the campuses are ready for a healthy fall 2021 semester,” according to a press release. 

The campus with the most members vaccinated will be rewarded with a trophy and ultimate bragging rights at the September 25 Eagle-Aggie football game that will take place at Truist Stadium on the N.C. A&T campus.

“North Carolina Central University is proud to continue to do our part in the collective effort against COVID-19,” NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye stated in a press release on the school’s website. “In the midst of the pandemic, our university stood strong in maintaining a 2.1 percent average positivity rate, which was well below the local and national average that continually soared prior to the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

NCCU, which is consistently ranked among the nation’s top HBCUs and A&T, the nation’s largest and top-ranked HBCU, are among 16 campuses in the University of North Carolina System that are distributing vaccines to faculty, staff, students, and members of the community.

NCCU’s campus clinic began in March in partnership with the Durham County Department of Health and Human Services. 

Meanwhile, N.C. A&T took the lead in that instance in February, when it opened its campus clinic in partnership with Cone Health and Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services. To date, both campus clinics have administered more than 14,600 vaccinations combined.

“The health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is of utmost importance to us. We continue to educate our campus community about the vaccine, and were among the first constituent universities in the UNC System to establish a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for the North Carolina A&T campus and surrounding community,” said A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “We will continue offering resources and are looking forward to a successful and healthy 2021-22 academic year.”

Unvaccinated residents across the state would do well to follow the lead of the two HBCUs.

An Associated Press analysis of government data available through May showed that unvaccinated people across the country account for nearly all COVID deaths.

Closer to home, HBCU leaders point to CDC data, which shows that North Carolina ranks 12th lowest in the nation in the number of vaccinations per capita. Less than half of North Carolinians who are eligible for a COVID-19 shot are fully vaccinated, despite the presence of more than 2.1 million doses waiting on shelves for residents to take, according to the press release.

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