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Tourney Not Just About B-ball

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The 57th Annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball Tournament will make its third straight appearance at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Raleigh starting Monday, Feb. 25 until Saturday, March 2. The women's action starts Monday at 1 3, 7 and 9 p.m. The men's games will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 1, 3, 7 and 9 p.m.

The CIAA, now in its 90th year, is the one of the oldest collegiate conferences in the nation. The CIAA also holds the distinction of being the first historically black college conference.

How could a historically black conference made up of 12 small schools generate a national following and become one of the biggest African-American sporting events in the country?

Well, unlike nearly every major college basketball tournament, the CIAA Tournament is about more than hoops. Over the years, the tournament has evolved into a week of networking, party and social event that attract thousands of alumni, interested fans and businesses. There's something going on for people of all ages during the tournament.

For those looking to network, a career expo will be held on Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the ESA. The official CIAA Hall of Fame Banquet will be held Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the Crabtree Marriott at 9 p.m.

The night owls can hit North Carolina Central University's campus as NCCU will host the Official CIAA Stepshow Throwdown and after party on Friday. Doors open at 9 p.m. The Old School Hip Hop concert and after-party will be held at NCCU'S McDougal-McClendon Sports Arena on Saturday. The show starts at 9 p.m. Also, the CIAA Fashion Show is slated for Saturday, March 2, at the BTI Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. There's also a battle of the bands and a cheerleading exhibition held at the ESA.

And that's just the CIAA-sponsored events. There will be various socials and parties going on at several nightspots around the Triangle. Another interesting aspect of the tournament is the Vendor's Pavilion, which opens Wednesday inside the Entertainment and Sports Arena on the second and third levels. Vendors from all over the country will be at the tournament selling everything from clothes and jewelry to African art and literature.

Of course, the favorite sideshow at every CIAA tournament is Mr. CIAA, a fan from Virginia who parades through the stands dressed in an array of striking outfits. Between games, Mr. CIAA changes clothes to match the colors of the teams playing on the court and is known to turn as many heads as a slam dunk.

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