With help from the Cincinnati Reds, Wilberforce University announced its historic baseball program will return after a nearly 80-year absence.
The return of the program will begin in the fall of 2022 allowing Wilberforce athletes to prepare for the spring 2023 season.
Leadership at Wilberforce – the nation’s oldest private, historically Black university owned and operated by African Americans – made the announcement Tuesday at Great American Ball Park. They were joined by Gov. Mike DeWine, members of the Reds organization and its community fund as well as the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy.
“Wilberforce University, as you’ve heard, has an amazing history with some amazing alums,” DeWine said. “… This is an exciting day for me. I think it’s a great thing.”
DeWine, a lifelong Reds fan who also owns a minor league baseball team in North Carolina, said the announcement will be a “tool” for Wilberforce to use to convince students to come to campus.
The program’s addition will not only be an asset to prospective student-athletes, but will also open the door for the school to create new opportunities for students who have no intentions of playing sports, DeWine said.
“It’s a good thing for baseball,” he said. “We’ve seen in the major leagues, the number of African American players has gone down significantly than when I was a kid, or even in the ’70s or ’80s.”
“The thing that also strikes me,” he continued, “is you’re going to have some young people that will go to Wilberforce who may want to get into the business side of it. The partnership with the Reds, and the ability to have internships, and see how the business side of sports is run, is a great, great thing.”
Elfred Anthony Pinkard, president of Wilberforce, said the move is part of the school’s “growth mode,” a plan to make the school an institution relevant to prospective students in modern times.
“We believe in the student-athlete,” he said. “And to the extent that we can offer an additional sport for our students, that’s always a good thing with regard to recruiting students to come to the university.”
“This is a very important sport, and this is an incredible operation,” he added, referring to the partnership with the Reds.
The Reds Community Fund will be partnering with the university to support the launch of the program, which will eventually compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“To see this day come to fruition is just amazing,” Wilberforce Athletic Director Derek Williams said.
Wilberforce’s baseball program was developed Ray Brown, a Negro League pitcher for the Homestead Grays in the late ’30s and ’40s who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006.
Brown compiled a 122-45 record as a starting pitcher, appeared in two East-West All-Star Games, and threw a one-hitter in the 1944 Negro League World Series to propel the Grays to a title.
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