By Chanda Temple
On Saturday, Oct. 25, Birmingham, Ala. will welcome the 73rd Magic City Classic, the annual football showdown between Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University in Birmingham, Ala.
Thousands will pour into the city for the rivalry and reunions at Legion Field, where everyone from celebrities and fashionistas to alumni and grill masters will gather. If you’ve never been, consider putting it on your calendar.
For me, this year’s Magic City Classic comes with something special – the release of “The Magic City Classic Game Day Rules,” a children’s book that highlights the long football tradition.
Written by Tuscumbia, Ala. native Sherri Graves Smith, the book stresses the importance of manners when it comes to attending the game and other Magic City Classic festivities. The bands, the teams and the fans are featured in cute illustrations by Damon Danielson.
Here’s a passage from the book:
“Both of our bands will be sure to march,
and even children will take part.
The polite thing for you to do
is cheer and clap for them entertaining you!”
Reaction from children, teachers and alumni has been overwhelming, Smith says. When the book was released in May 2014, five cases of books sold immediately.
“I had no idea that they would become this popular,” Smith says. “Even though it wasn’t football season, even though we weren’t near the classic, we had an immediate interest.”
‘Alabama A&M claimed it as their own. Alabama State claimed it as their own.”
Magic City Classic fans will get a chance to buy the book and meet Smith Thursday, Oct. 23 – Sunday, Oct. 26 during various book signings in Birmingham. The books, published by Mascot Books, are $14.95.
Thursday, Oct. 23 – Magic City Classic Pep Rally at Regions Field, 1401 First Ave. South, 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 24 – Tom Joyner Morning Show live broadcast, Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, 2101 Richard Arrington Blvd., 5 – 9 a.m.
Friday, Oct. 24 – Sheraton Hotel, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 25 – Legion Field, Coors Pre-Game Tailgate area, 400 Graymont Ave., 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sunday, Sheraton Hotel, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Smith, an attorney living in the Atlanta area, wrote her first children’s college mascot in 2011. Once it was published in 2012, she started writing more and expanded the series to have different college mascots teaching numbers, the alphabet and manners. Some of her first books were for teams such as the University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Georgia. This fall, she released her first NBA Game Day book for the Dallas Mavericks. (Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a fan.)
The Magic City Classic book is her 42nd children’s mascot book and her first book for a historically black college.
With deep roots tied to the state of Alabama, memories of the classic and having several family members with a connection to AAMU, Smith says she had to make the Magic City Classic book her first book for a historically black college. (Her husband, Chuck Smith; her in-laws, William and Joyce Smith; her grandmother, Otelia Long; and her uncle, George Davis, are all AAMU graduates. Her high school teacher, John Winston, graduated from ASU.)
“Even though I didn’t go to an HBCU, I’m particularly excited about this series coming out,” says Smith, a graduate of the University of Alabama. “I wanted to do something reflective of my culture, the black culture.”
But getting to this week hasn’t been easy for Smith, 43. In 2007, a tumor was found in her colon and she received treatment for it. After subsequent tests, the tumor was gone. In 2009, it metastasized to her lung.
Her doctors examined different types of treatment because the chemotherapy that she was she was undergoing was not working. She finally changed treatments and is now undergoing an aggressive form of chemotherapy. She says the disease is stabilized but she still must have chemotherapy weekly.
“I have full breathing capacity, which is a wonderful blessing,” she says. “They are fighting the cancerous nodes.”
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride.”
There are times Smith is really tired and she admits she wants to quit. But she keeps going. She credits her family and her fans.
“My husband helps me. My sister, my niece help. And then I get these letters from children or from parents or from teachers and they tell me how (my books have) impacted them and touched their lives,” Smith says. “That inspires me.”
What also inspires her is how her 87-year-old father, retired Col. Arthur Graves, helps her with book sales. He bought a house next to his home home in Tuscumbia, renovated it and turned into Smith’s company base known as Mulberry. He ships books, handles orders, etc.
“He’s gone all out,” Smith says. “Some days, he’s the stock boy. Some days, he’s the lawn man. I can get on the phone and be feeling absolutely terrible. Then, I get on the phone and hear what he’s done. I get such a kick out of it.”
“I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got to keep doing it.’ ”
In September 2014, Smith released mascot books for five schools, including the University of Miami and Kansas State University. Future mascot book reviews are pending with seven schools, including the University of Texas and Northwestern University.
Last week, Smith shipped out a children’s mascot book on the Southern Heritage Classic, which features the historically black colleges of Jackson State University and Tennessee State University. (Her mother, Jean Graves, is a TSU graduate.) Currently pending review before historically black colleges is her book on the Bayou Classic, which is between Grambling State University and Southern University. She says she’d like to do a Game Day book for the classic between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University. She’s also looking at expanding the series to historically black college homecomings.
In November 2014, she’ll launch her Lil Sherri series, which looks at life through the eyes of a six-year-old, African-American girl based on Smith. The first book, which is about optimism, is entitled “Is My Cup Empty.” The second book, which will be out in spring 2015, will be about gratitude. The book will include children of different races.
Says Smith: “I’m so excited about coming to the Magic City Classic. I haven’t made any appearances this year, but the classic is something that I said I’m going to commit to because I feel that the message is important.”
“I want children to look at (Magic City Classic Game Day Rules) and be proud of themselves and see themselves. And even if they don’t go to an HBCU, I want them to have a book that depicts an HBCU and our culture in a positive light,” she says.
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Follow Sherri Graves Smith on Twitter.
Chanda Temple is a former reporter now working in public relations. She blogs about being better in business and more at http://www.chandatemplewrites.com. Follow her on Twitter at @chandatemple. Contact her at email@example.com.