The 2023 CIAA Basketball Tournament provided Claflin University men's and women's basketball teams with opportunities to win their first respective tournament titles since joining the venerable conference in 2018. The CIAA Tournament is widely recognized as one of the East Coast's premier athletics, social, and cultural events. Claflin used the CIAA Tournament's notoriety as a platform to expand the University's brand as a premier liberal arts college/university and a Top 10 Historically Black College/University (U.S. News and World Report) in the Greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The tournament was played February 21-25 at the CFG Bank Arena in downtown Baltimore.
Although the Panthers and Lady Panthers basketball teams had to put their championship ambitions on hold after suffering losses in their respective tournament openers, Claflin exerted its dominance in another competition away from the action on the court.
For the third time in four years, a Miss Claflin contestant captured the crown in the Miss CIAA Scholarship Competition. Arteria Gibson, a senior mass communications major with a concentration in public relations, will wear the coveted crown. Gibson also has a minor in business management.
"When I heard them call out 'and your new Miss CIAA is Miss Claflin University,' I was in complete shock," said Gibson, a Columbia, S.C. native and a graduate of Dreher High School. "I had no idea I was going to win. I was just so happy that our hard work paid off, and we brought these titles home and put Claflin even higher on the map."
Not to be outdone, Mendel Rivers, also a senior from Columbia, S.C., became the first Mister Claflin to claim the Mister CIAA crown. Rivers, a Spring Valley High School graduate, is majoring in management information science. He will join Gibson in representing the conference at community service events and making appearances affiliated with Claflin University, the local community, Food Lion, and the CIAA during the year. Both students also received a $2,500 Food Lion scholarship.
Upon graduating, Gibson plans to attend graduate school and earn her master's degree in business administration. Rivers is currently working in a co-op program with Dominion Energy and Transportation. He wants to work as an analyst when he graduates.
"It is surreal. It still hasn't completely set in that I have made history for Claflin University," Rivers said. "It is an honor, especially with this being only the second year of the Mister CIAA Scholarship Competition.”
The Mister CIAA and Miss CIAA Scholarship Competition recognizes two outstanding students for their exemplary professionalism, academic success, leadership, and public service. The winners are selected based on a criterion that includes: an essay, interview with Food Lion representatives, grade point average, participation in extracurricular activities, and voting results. The contestants were also required to submit a Food Lion Feeds Promo Video and a creative initiative proposal.
Gibson's proposal, "A Better You at CU," focused on students' physical and mental well-being. She launched "Mindful Mondays," a forum for students to discuss mental health topics and societal and worldly issues at the start of the fall semester. Gibson was among the Claflin students that participated in a roundtable discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris in September 2022.
“Boys to Men," a program that will utilize the principles of leadership, service, and personal development to increase the participation of male students at Claflin events and activities, was Rivers’ proposal. The goal is to improve campus morale and help male students develop skills to prepare them for success during and after college.
Claflin raised eyebrows when Shantavia Edmonds, '19, became the first Miss Claflin to win the Miss CIAA title in 2019 – the University’s inaugural year at the CIAA Tournament. Claflin won two consecutive titles when Faith McKie succeeded Edmonds as Miss Claflin and earned the 2020 Miss CIAA crown. CIAA officials canceled the 2021 pageant due to the coronavirus. But 2022 marked the debut of the Mister CIAA Scholarship Competitionand Mister Claflin Isaiah Robinson was the first runner-up.
"It's the Claflin Magic!" said Dr. Denver Malcom Key when asked to explain Claflin's impressive showing at the Miss and Mister CIAA ScholarshipCompetition. Key is the assistant vice president for student development at Claflin. She also serves as the advisor of Claflin's Royal Court. "Their preparation begins with their journey to become Mister Claflin University and Miss Claflin University. Their commitment during each phase of the process for those two positions is critical and has significant implications. The entire process sets the stage for their reign as Mister Claflin University and Miss Claflin University, from submitting the application to their presentations in the pageant throughstudent voting.It also prepares them for the CIAA competition."
In addition to the Mister CIAA and Miss CIAA Scholarship Competition, Gibson and Rivers took advantage of networking, career, and personal development opportunities at other CIAA Tournament events.
"We are proud of how we represented Claflin and ourselves throughout the week," said Gibson, a member of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. "We want to continuously highlight the importance of HBCUs and the Black excellence at our colleges and universities."