Earlier this week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine joined representatives from Wilberforce University to announce the return of collegiate baseball to the school in 2022 and an ongoing partnership with the Cincinnati Reds and the Reds Community Fund (RCF).
The announcement took place inside the main gates of Great American Ball Park on Tuesday afternoon. Governor DeWine, Wilberforce president Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard, Wilberforce athletic director Derek Williams and Reds RBI program leader and head coach of La Salle High School Roosevelt Barnes all spoke at the event, which was emceed by RCF executive director Charley Frank. This group was joined by additional Wilberforce representatives, while Reds senior vice president of business operations Karen Forgus and other members of the Reds organization were also in attendance.
“We always say that we are an institution of possibility, a place of possibility, and today something additional has become possible for our students,” Pinkard said. “I stand here on behalf of the Wilberforce University family to thank the Cincinnati Reds for having the courage and compassion to come forth and partner with an institution like Wilberforce. Big things are about to happen for us, and we are very excited to be a part of this incredible partnership.”
Established in 1856 just outside of Xenia, Ohio, Wilberforce is the nation’s oldest, private, historically Black university. After an 80-year hiatus, the Wilberforce University Bulldogs baseball program will relaunch next fall as a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
“For my wife Fran and I, this is a very exciting day,” Governor DeWine said. “We are lifelong Reds fans and big baseball fans. But we also live about five miles from Wilberforce. It has an amazing history.
“The announcement today is one more tool that Wilberforce will have. One more reason people will have to look at Wilberforce as a college to go to.”
In addition to the Reds Community Fund partnering with Wilberforce to support the launch of the baseball program, the broader goal is to collaborate with the university to create opportunities for their students to interact with the Reds organization. From opportunities that include training and playing games at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy to connecting with the members of the Reds' front office on the business side, the possibilities are endless.
As the partnership between Wilberforce, the Reds and the RCF evolves, more information will be shared in the near future. Conversations already range from topics such as equipment support and resources to games and activations at the Reds Youth Academy and an ongoing pipeline between the team and the university.
Coach Barnes, who led the Reds' senior RBI baseball team to the program’s first World Series championship this summer, is a Wilberforce alumnus. Seeing the Reds and Wilberforce come together for such an important initiative is something he has been looking forward to for a long time.
“I am happy that a vision that started with a conversation with my wife about three years ago has now turned into this,” Barnes said. “The overall goal is to continue to impact the lives of young men, and to do that through the sport of baseball. I’m looking forward to big things as the Academy continues to grow. This will be great for Wilberforce and great for the Academy. We will connect the other academies across the country as we continue to provide opportunities for young men and even the playing field in the game of baseball.”
Over the past two years, the Reds Academy and RBI program have graduated six young men and women who have continued their playing careers at HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) schools. With a regional HBCU opportunity on the horizon, these numbers are likely to climb.