Tommy Amaker: Harvard vs. Howard is much more than a game

Harvard and Howard: Something Bigger

Ahead of Harvard University hosting Howard University in their first football game this week, I find myself reflecting on how meaningful our team has been at Harvard and how meaningful this game is to our respective universities, athletic programs and greater communities. To me, this is more than just a game, and Harvard and Howard are more than just schools. They are, and we are, representative of something bigger.

It has been a tremendous honor to represent Harvard and all that Harvard stands for over the past 12 years while serving as the head basketball coach and special assistant to the president. At the time I was hired at Harvard, there weren’t any African American head coaches on staff. I am proud to have played a role in helping former Harvard president Drew Faust, and current Harvard president Larry Bacow, in their mission to inspire our community to embrace a “One Harvard’ vision.

I have viewed my role as being more than “just a coach.” My goal is to TEACH. LEAD. SERVE. our student-athletes, and to have a positive impact on their lives and our community. The partnership between our basketball program and the Howard basketball program is a significant step toward accomplishing this mission.

We purposefully started a series of basketball games with Howard in 2013-14 in order to expose and present these two amazing institutions by competing in the great sport of basketball. We have strategically held the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and weekend, bringing our two communities together over a common purpose. The continued series has allowed us to incorporate additional educational events, including taking our team to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to teach them about Dr. King’s mission and legacy. We talk about the word “sacrifice” within a basketball context a lot with our players, but our relationship with Howard has allowed our players to learn the importance of the word “sacrifice” outside of the 94-by-50-foot hardwood. Additionally, it has allowed me to teach our players the meaning of being a part of something bigger than just themselves.

Former Harvard president Drew Faust, for example, shared an article with our worldwide Harvard alumni that John Feinstein wrote for The Washington Post about our game against Howard in 2016. Feinstein’s article was aptly headlined “Harvard traveled to play basketball at Howard for higher learning.” That phrase captures the essence of what we are trying to accomplish with our program and this relationship.

Howard president Dr. Wayne Frederick and Howard athletic director Kery Davis are aligned with this mission and have done a terrific job of stewarding the “Harvard of the HBCUs.” Coach Kenny Blakeney, who played an integral role in building our program at Harvard, has already done a tremendous job of instilling the same message: “Bigger than basketball.” As a Washington, D.C., native himself, Kenny will be an incredible asset as Howard continues to educate and teach their future leaders.

Through the genesis of our games together and in getting to know Kery, I have learned that the connection between Harvard and Howard runs deeper than even expected. Kery made me aware that, upon the commencement of Howard football’s inaugural season in 1893, Harvard sent a goodwill gift in the form of football uniforms — one “HU” in the North helping another “HU” in the South — maybe one of the first acts of future fellowship among two historic institutions. The Harvard vs. Howard football game on Saturday is something that both communities should be excited about and proud of. It is another opportunity for us as educators to TEACH. LEAD. SERVE. and make our students aware of our communities’ shared history. It is more than a game.

We are constantly striving to make our community and alumni proud of how we expose our students to all that our sport and our amazing institution have to offer. In the athletics world, our forum to do that just happens to be a basketball court or playing field. Combining all of the layers and opportunities that can come from our sport, and other sports, especially at institutions like Harvard and Howard, are incredibly meaningful. Why wouldn’t we have these two great institutions compete against each other to bring our communities together? How cool is that?