There are a fews things you have to actually attend a games to see during the CIAA Tournament.
Pep bands, the Virginia State Woo-Woos and Abraham ‘Mr. CIAA’ Mitchell come to mind. Mitchell is the only one-man-show at the annual tournament and soon he will be getting a much deserved honor. It was recently announced that Mitchell, a native of Suffolk, Virginia, will be one of 10 members inducted into the next Hall of Fame class.
To outsiders this is probably no big deal. To those in the know, we collectively gave Mr. Mitchell a standing ovation – not to mention an “about time.” I don’t care how many tournaments you’ve attended, Mr. CIAA has more than likely been there.
He is as much a part of the tournament as the basketballs. The basketballs, however, can be replaced.
Who is Mr. CIAA you ask? Let’s just say if the conference had a mascot, Mitchell would be it. For years, Mr. CIAA has put on a fashion show for generations of fans. Between games, he ducks somewhere in the arena, changes his flashy suits, and struts around the stands and floor, putting on a fashion show. Next to the actual action on the court, it’s probably the most anticipated thing about the tournament.
I honestly don’t even know if Mr. Mitchell, I mean, Mr. CIAA, even watches the games, but when he hits the floor, I feel sorry for the kids on the court, because all eyes are on Mr. CIAA. He has (at least) one suit the color of all CIAA schools, added with his own special flavor. His age is a mystery, but he has been a fixture at the tournament for more than 30 years. I’ve never heard him talk, only seen him smile. He stops and poses for pictures with fans who line up. I’ve seen his photo in ‘Ebony’ and seen multiple stories about him in various media outlets. In a league that produced Rick Mahorn, Ben Wallace, Clarence “Big House” Gaines and Earl Monroe, Mr. CIAA is as synonymous with the league as any of them, and just as iconic.
I don’t have a favorite Mr. CIAA suit, but I do have a favorite story.
I can’t remember the year, but it was when the tournament was in Raleigh. By this time, I had a few tournaments under my belt, so I was always looking forward to seeing what he wore next. I did radio for Elizabeth City State University and my partner, and good friend Jemayne King, a Virginia native, gave me a little background on Mr. Mitchell.
“Jonas, you know Mr. CIAA works at a funeral home in Suffolk, right?” Jemayne asked.
Without missing a beat, I replied “I guess you can say he’s dressed to kill.”
It was my single greatest line during my broadcasting career. It’s just one Mr. CIAA story I have. I’m sure there are millions out there. When the announcement was made, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like a family member was being honored. I just hope the other nine honorees put a lot of thought into their outfits. Doesn’t matter, they still won’t hold a candle to the best dressed man in the history of the conference.