Baseball is returning to Wilberforce
The Wilberforce University Bulldogs haven't had a baseball team since before World War II, but a partnership with the Cincinnati Reds is changing that.
Baseball is coming back to Wilberforce University, and they’re doing it with the help of the Cincinnati Reds.
Wilberforce hasn’t had a baseball team since before World War II, but last month the university announced that the baseball program will start competing again next year (2022) in a fall league. The first official games will be played in spring 2023.
Derrick Williams is the Athletic Director at Wilberforce. Williams played baseball in college and said that, in his experience, student athletes do better in school and are also good employees once they graduate.
In general, he's also excited to bring back the pride and tradition that comes with a baseball program. He said the feedback from alumni has been very positive and that he can envision a renewed baseball rivalry with nearby HBCUs like Kentucky State. The university also hopes it will grow enrollment.
The focus right now though: he and his staff are turning over every stone to recruit the close to 30 athletes they’ll need to revive the team. A few years down the line they hope to have a full 55-man roster that could support both a JV and a Varsity team.
Williams said he's been impressed with the recruits they've spoken with so far. Three transfer students will start next semester and the rest will come in the summer.
“What I'm telling young men is, 'hey, you have an opportunity to come get a great education from a great university, but also be on the cutting edge of reviving the program and being able to leave your legacy to continue doing what you love to do and play the game of baseball,'” Williams said.
The team will be able to use Cincinnati Reds’ facilities to train during the winter. Williams said he also hopes the Reds’ pre-existing RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) Program will help the HBCU find local student athletes. The coach of the senior Reds RBI baseball team, Roosevelt Barnes, is a Wilberforce alumnus and helped form the partnership between the university and the organization. Barnes is being heavily considered to be the head coach of Wilberforce's team, according to the University.
The team will most likely play their games for the first few seasons at the Athletes in Action complex in Xenia. Williams said the hope is to eventually build a stadium, but that it may take a few years.
Williams also spoke about the larger trend of lower participation by Black youth in baseball. He said he thinks more representation of Black athletes in the media is important. But he also thinks that as the Wilberforce baseball program grows they will be able to host instructional clinics and tournaments.
"We have to continue to put young men and young women in a situation where they can see people like them playing the game of baseball," Williams said.
Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.