The Organization Behind the Bayou Classic

During the last weekend of November, it’s a known fact that the City of New Orleans turns into a state-wide hotspot. On Thanksgiving Weekend, New Orleans becomes home to the Bayou Classic—a week full of festivities, and the celebration of the now 44-year-old classic game between theSouthern University Jaguars and the Grambling University Tigers.
While the next Annual Classic is over five months away, the team behind the exceptional event is already making plans for one of New Orleans’ most popular events.
So, who’s behind the Bayou Classic, anyway?

The Organizers
The Bayou Classic Foundation has contracted The New Orleans Convention Company, Inc., as the Official Event Planner for the Bayou Classic for
the last five years. When the company took over, the Classic had a declining reputation, with attendance under 40,000 people.
“We took it from the grassroots and built it up. We had to get all the way down and build the foundation,” said Dottie Belletto, President and CEO of NOCCI. “We had to change the perception that Bayou Classic wasn’t dying—it was well alive.”
Belletto and her team spent countless hours re-energizing and re-engineering the Bayou Classic events. The process started with a full-force campaign to get more youth involved in the Classic. This new model put emphasis on offering scholarships and jobs. “We wanted to expand not only entertainment, but work opportunities for students,” Belletto said.
In 2016, the Bayou Classic started the BizTech Challenge, where students from Louisiana’s six HBCUs competed to create an app to help small businesses recover from national disasters.
“We have created incubators on both campuses of their intelligence that is coming forward in technology. We are then creating something that will be continually sustainable for Grambling and Southern that will open opportunities with students,” Belletto said.
Passion for the ClassicOver the last five years, Belletto has been passionate about discovering new ways to grow the Bayou Classic. “I just had the passion. I don’t see color or race. All I see is green—which is the color of money,” Belletto said. Belletto said she cares deeply about Historically Black Colleges and Universities and is committed to making sure HBCU students get employed.
“These kids need to have the same opportunity as everyone else. I’ve seen kids from HBCU grow and mature in the workforce,” she said.  “When you see that, that’s what changes you. When you changed lives like that, you can’t give that feeling up.”
Belletto fights to ensure that Bayou Classic is treated the same as Essence and other large events in New Orleans. “The passion she speaks about is real,” said Angela Young, a Media Relations Partner with NOCCI. “It’s not just while we’re planning Bayou Classic in the fall or summer, it’s all-year-around for Dottie and the entire team.”
“She’s the ultimate professional,” said Ron Busby, the President and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. “Dottie is inclusive of the entire New Orleans Community—both the minority and majority.”
Changes to Bayou Classic in 2017
Continuing its focus on Louisiana’s college students, the 44th Annual Bayou Classic will forego its career fair in turn for a larger BizTech Challenge. Future Bayou Classics will focus on creating more opportunities for Louisiana’s youth.
“We need to continue growing. You’ll never see a static Bayou Classic. It will be changing every year,” Belletto said.This summer, NOCCI will bounce new ideas that will make the 2017 Bayou Classic a better experience for everyone. “We find things to make things work, and come in to be a benefit of the classic—A benefit for the students, fans, and faculty,” Belletto added.
This year, the Bayou Classic will use the theme “We Are One,” promoting unity between fan, faculties, and students regardless of background or college. The 2017 year will also bring rise to the new MVP Program, which will bring back former MVP Classic players.
“We’re looking at opportunities for who you can engage with to make a difference. We have stars of our own, let’s put them on display,” said Quintin Thomas, the General Manager for Sports and Entertainment for NOCCI.
“All of these things are putting more of these spotlights on the kids. That’s the next part of the story. We want the recruiters to see our young men in the best light possible,” he added.
The Bayou Classic
In 2015, NOCCI donated the original Tiffany Glass Bayou Classic Trophy to the African- American Museum in Washington D.C. That same year, NOCCI launched a new trophy design that symbolizes unity between the different schools. “There has to be a lot of love, a lot of passion, and a lot of interest,” Belletto said. “There is no amount of money that can pay us back for all of the efforts. It’s because of the bigger stories we’re connecting with the community.”
In 2018 and 2019, NOCCI will work with Lone Star Sports as the management team for the State Fair Football Showdown, featuring Southern University verses Texas Southern University at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
Under Belletto’s leadership, the Classic pulls in around $250,000 in local sponsorships; Collaboration between 30 participating hotels; and an attendance of over 60,000 people.
The money raised during the Bayou Classic helps to support Grambling and Southern University.

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Photos by Terry B. Jones Publisher, Data News Weekly Sharon Martin, as a solo act or with her band Music
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