XENIA, Ohio — It’s a historic time at Wilberforce University as they bring back baseball for the first time in 80 years. For this historically Black university, it also means forming young men for their futures. 

What You Need To Know

  • Wilberforce University will have baseball this spring for the first time in 80 years

  • Head Coach Roosevelt Barnes helped start bringing the team back with the help of the Reds

  • Barnes and the Reds are also focusing on creating opportunities for these players after their baseball career

  • Barnes hopes his story inspires other HBCUs to do the same

It’s a bit cold for early spring practices for the Wilberforce baseball team, but head coach Roosevelt Barnes doesn’t mind. 

Head Coach Roosevelt Barnes talks to his team before practice (Spectrum News/Katie Kapusta)

That’s because it’s taken seven years to get here, and it’s been 80 since a team has represented the school.

“Everything that we started initially in 2016 has really kind of come full circle," Barnes said. "To be able to bring baseball back here after 80 years, it has energized the alum, it’s energized campus. We’ve been getting phone calls from really all over the country just providing us with well wishes as we get going here in a couple weeks.”

Now, the Bulldogs are getting ready for their first game.

“It’s like Christmas in February, right?” Barnes said.

While Barnes initiated the idea to bring America’s game back to Wilberforce, the Reds were a catalyst in making that happen. Especially Jerome Wright, who directs the Reds Youth Academy.

“Bringing Black baseball back to the community is something we were longing to do," Wright said. "And Roosevelt had the vision to try to get a baseball team back at an HBCU in our area. We worked together for a couple of years to develop a plan to bring that back to Wilberforce.”

The Reds helped with the financials of building a team as well as provided resources.

Jerome Wright, the director of the Reds Youth Academy, shows the facilities that the team can use at the academy (Spectrum News/Katie Kapusta)

“Wilberforce can come down here and use our tunnels, our indoor field, our weight room, whatever they need to help them level the playing field," Wright said.

But for Wright, it’s more than baseball.

“We want to see the success on the field but we also want to get some of those young men that are a part of the program into internships with the Reds or full-time positions with the Reds as well because we’re trying to make a whole individual and baseball is just a catalyst to do that," Wright said.

Barnes is right there with him.

Barnes watches as his team practices before the season starts (Spectrum News/Katie Kapusta)

“We’re not just playing ball in between the lines," Barnes said. "There are plans to employ some of these young men, to provide them with internships and even gainful employment in the game of baseball," Barnes said.

While bringing baseball back after the long hiatus was the goal.

“That’s kind of what this is about, creating another opportunity for young men in the area and all across the country for that matter, to continue to play the game of baseball," he said.

Barnes hopes it sets an example for other HBCUs across the country 

“I hope that we are a catalyst for other HBCUs," he said. "How fitting right that this is the first time that a major league team has ever partnered with an HBCU. And Wilberforce is the first privately owned and operated HBCU here in Ohio founded in 1856. To have two firsts come together and get this done, I’m pretty sure there will be more HBCUs that’ll follow.”

Wilberforce plays its first game of the season in Georgia on Feb. 10 and its first home game at the Athletes in Action facility in Xenia on March 13.