By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Wanda Dickens would admit to a bit of bias, but she thinks her late husband was the number-one fan of the Magic City Classic—at least among those wearing Alabama State University’s (ASU’s) black and gold.
“He never missed a Classic that I’m aware of. He always supported it wholeheartedly,” she said of her husband, Reginald Dickens, who passed away on Nov. 24, 2020. “He took off a whole week every time they had a Classic.”
The 79th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola will be held on Saturday, April 17, at Birmingham’s Legion Field; kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
Reginald Bernald Dickens of Forestdale, Alabama, was a U.S. Army veteran and veteran schoolteacher whose stops included Midfield City Schools. He had been treated for multiple myeloma, a type of cancer, and developed pneumonia after his course of radiation. He succumbed to respiratory failure in an emergency room at a local Birmingham hospital. He was 61.
“Everybody knew that the week of the Classic, he was at the tailgating,” Wanda Dickens said of her spouse of 43 years. “He was gonna be at the game, he was gonna be supportive. It was just a known fact.”
Regina Dickens, the youngest daughter of the late ASU alumnus, agreed.
“On Classic day, he’d be the first one up celebrating and the last one going to sleep, celebrating and encouraging everyone to come out, as well, and making sure they were wearing their black and gold,” she said. “It was all about fellowship, representing anyone who attended [ASU], and just making it a fun-filled event for his family and friends. That was one thing that he always looked forward to faithfully.”
The younger Dickens, who also attended ASU, quickly corrected herself. She didn’t mean to limit her father’s fandom to just the day of the game.
“It wasn’t a ‘day’ of celebration. It was almost a month,” she added. “As he got older, it became more than just the Magic City Classic. It was an almost monthly celebration.
“Around that time, it also became, ‘Let me go out and find those who may not know about [ASU] and get them involved in events, as well. As he got older, it became way more than just the event. It became, ‘I’m gonna use this to promote my school.’”
You could say that Reginald Dickens was raised to be a fan of the Classic. His parents were ASU alumni, and they always brought him from their home in Dothan, Alabama, to the annual Legion Field football meeting between the ASU Hornets and the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) Bulldogs.
Reginald Dickens taught elementary and junior high in several school systems, including Fairfield, Bessemer, Montevallo, and Midfield; he also served as an assistant girl’s basketball coach at Midfield High School. After retiring from Midfield City Schools in 2019, he tutored at Central Park Christian School (The Rock City Church School).
Birmingham native Erick Wright, president of the ASU National Alumni Association, is someone who counted himself as a brother to Reginald Dickens, even though they didn’t share parents.
“Reginald Dickens and I pledged Kappa Alpha Psi [Fraternity, Incorporated], together for the Beta Zeta Chapter of [ASU] in 1978,” Wright said. “He and I are not only fraternity brothers but also longtime friends that developed a brotherhood aside from the fraternity because he had no other brothers in his family.”
That brotherhood grew when Dickens relocated from Dothan to Birmingham in 1982, and the “brothers” shared a love for and a visible role in the Magic City Classic.
“For the last two years, in my role as the national [ASU alumni] president, he has been my driver in the Magic City Classic parade,” Wright said. “We always got together the entire weekend, starting as early as Thursday with tailgating and other gatherings and activities in the city.
“He would drop me back off at the hotel after the parade, and we would gather again at the tailgate at Legion Field. Following the game, we would converse about the game and festivities. From that standpoint, we will miss each other, that friendship,” said Wright, who had planned to attend this year’s spring installment of the Classic, but opted to skip the event out of precaution, limited seating and traditional activities not being held.
Wanda Dickens also will skip this year’s game, but she expects to be back in the fall.
“I know I’m not ready for this spring Classic,” she said, acknowledging her spouse’s concern about contracting COVID-19. “My husband was so adamant about the COVID-19 situation when it came to masking, wearing gloves, hand-washing—and not being around big groups of people.”
“I’m just trying to make sure [I stay safe],” the widow continued. “I did get [both doses of] my vaccine …, but I’m not prepared to go to the spring Classic. I’m still in this grieving process.”
The 79th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola will be held on Saturday, April 17, at Birmingham’s Legion Field. The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and can be seen live nationally on ESPNU.