By BOB DARDEN
The Greenwood Commonwealth
Saturday’s game between the Mississippi Valley State University’s Delta Devils and the Delta State University’s Statesmen brought the first families of both institutions out for a joint tailgating celebration.
Dr. Bill LaForge, president of Delta State, and his wife, Nancy, joined Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., acting Valley president, and his wife, Juandalyn.
“This is a fun rivalry,” LaForge said. “Here we are, just 40 miles apart, kind of a Delta Classic — we can call it what we want to.”
The Rankins were also accompanied by their children: son Alfred, 8, and daughter Aftyn, 10. Mrs. Rankins and the children live in Madison.
LaForge, 63, a graduate of Delta State, started work as its president April 15 and will formally be inaugurated Nov. 1. He said it’s been “a whirlwind” since he moved to the Cleveland campus.
“It keeps you busy every day,” he said.
That’s about how it has been for Rankins, 42, who came to Valley in November after the state Institutions of Higher Learning board declined to renew the contract of the previous president, Dr. Donna Oliver.
An active search is ongoing to find Valley’s next president, but Rankins is ineligible for the permanent position. Still, he said, he’s had an impact at the Itta Bena school since taking office.
“We’ve just been trying to move this institution in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve changed the culture here; we see things differently. We’ve had a lot of success on campus.”
He said a lot more work must be done to get Valley where it should be.
Both presidents said the friendly rivalry can only help each school succeed.
“We want students to come to our schools,” LaForge said, before adding, “and good football players.”
Valley and Delta State haven’t faced each other often, but the idea of a Delta Classic between the schools — complete with corporate sponsors — seemed to capture the imagination of both presidents.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” LaForge said. “We’ve done it in the past. You could say we’ve been in training for this.”
LaForge said although Rankins will not serve as Valley’s president, he will always consider him to be “my first president of Valley.”
Delta State came out ahead in the game Saturday, winning 24-14.
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