Partnership with Reds bringing baseball back to Wilberforce University

Program has been dormant since 1940

CINCINNATI -- Of all the reasons for the Cincinnati Reds and Wilberforce University to establish a connection, Michael Anderson points out a simple one – history.

“The Reds were the first professional baseball team and Wilberforce was the first HBCU,” the Reds public relations manager points out.

Technically, Pennsylvania’s Cheyney State ranks as the nation’s first Historically Black College or University, but Wilberforce was the first to be owned and operated by Blacks and is the oldest private HBCU. It opened in 1856, 13 years before the Reds made their debut as baseball’s first all-professional team, which makes Tuesday’s momentous announcement that Bulldog baseball will be revived with the help of the Reds Community Fund after lying dormant since 1940.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, along with his wife, first lady Fran DeWine, was on hand at Great American Ball Park to help announce the return to Wilberforce in fall 2022.

“My children are runners,” said DeWine, who lives five miles from Wilberforce in Cedarville and already planned to be on hand at Great American Ball Park to pick out his 2022 season ticket seats and pick up his Reds Hall of Fame bobblehead collection. “When high school students are looking for a college, some of them ask ‘Can I run?’ or ‘Can I play golf?’ This is one more tool, one more reason, to look to Wilberforce for a college.”

The connection between Wilberforce and the Reds will be through the franchise’s Youth Academy in Cincinnati’s Roselawn neighborhood. Wilberforce players will have access to the facilities, but the Reds also will be working with the university to create opportunities for non-playing studentsto intern in the team’s front office.

“We’re very, very excited,” Wilberforce President Elfred Anthony Pinkard said during the 18-minute media session, staged on the Great American Ball Park concourse in front of murals depicting the original 1869 Reds and the mid-1970s Big Red Machine. “We have always been an institution of possibilities – a place of possibilities. I thank the Reds for having the courage and compassion to partner with Wilberforce. This is representative of what occurred in 1856.

“This is much more than an partnership. This speaks to who we are as a nation.”

Roosevelt Barnes, a Wilberforce graduate who coached the Reds RBI Senior team to a World Series championship in August, and his wife, Kellie Boyd Barnes, was a driving force in forging the partnership between the franchise and the university, Reds Community Fund director Charley Frank said.

“I started the conversation with his wife three years ago.” Roosevelt Barnes said. “It turned into this. We’re excited to impact young men through baseball.”

“What a great day for the two communities,” Frank said.

Frank pointed out that the Reds RBI program has sent six players on to HBCU teams outside of Ohio.

“We’re excited that the proposition will now include Wilberforce here in Ohio,” he said. “This will be an opportunity for students to interact with the Reds community. They can play at Roselawn and train there, and other students can interact with the business side. The sky’s the limit.”

Also on hand for the media session was Reds Vice President of People and Culture Victor Livisay, Reds Youth Academy Assistant Director Jeremy Hamilton, Reds Senior Vice President of Business Operations Karen Forgus, Wilberfore Athletics Director Derek Williams, Wilberforce Chief Operating Officer William Woodson, Wilberforce Vice President of Institutional Advancement Natalie Coles and Wilberforce Assistant Vice President of Public Relations and Programs Marsha Bonhart.

The Bulldogs will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Reds’ commitment to Wilberforce is modeled after similar arrangements between other Major League Baseball youth academies and local colleges, include the New Orleans Youth Academy and Xavier University of Louisiana. The franchise’s involvement right now is facility-driven, but financial support might be forthcoming, Frank said.

“That’s a work in progress,” he said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to support them. It’s much broader and deeper than financial support. Establishing a pipeline between the two organizations is important.”

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