White Bluefield St. Parents Offended By Story on HBCU World Series
Black Parents, They Say Should Shut Up
I’ve been writing about Black College baseball for the better part of a decade. As a former HBCU baseball player at Fort Valley State College and Tuskegee Institute in the early 1970s, I have a long history in the sport. I have watched the sport change over the years, and I have, on numerous occasions, documented those changes.
In 1973, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) played the only All-Star game in its history, dating from 1913. The Conference All-Stars played the conference champions, Tuskegee Institute. I was an outfielder on the 1973 Tuskegee team. My line on the day: Two walks, one stolen base, one run scored (the winning run), and the last defensive putout to end the game.
The SIAC never organized another All-Star game. To my knowledge, none of the other predominately Black College athletic conferences have hosted an All-Star game.
By the 1980s, most Black college athletic conferences held a post-season tournament to crown its conference champion. While there have been some mythical polls to rank the top ten baseball teams, not until this year when the Black College Baseball World Series was held, has a game of the magnitude of the 1973 SIAC All-Star game been held. A game where the best of the best competed on the playing field for “bragging rights.”
Without a doubt, the first Black College World Series is a huge deal. The Series brought together six of the top teams in Division II of the NCAA. and the NAIA. Teams were chosen based on their volume of work during a pandemic shortened baseball season. On May 17, 2021, the SWAC and MEAC Champions will square off to determine the Division II World Series Champion.
The double-elimination tournament had everything you would want to see in a college baseball world series, played at any level. Numerous teams turned rally-ending double-plays, power and finesse pitching, base stealing, and runners caught stealing, several good old fashioned rhubarbs, and a few homers, to the delight of the crowd. Perhaps, one or two of the players will get an opportunity to apply their skills professionally.
I’m a feature writer at Black College Nines, one of the Black College World Series sponsors. I did not cover the Series to report on the games; my colleague, Michael Coker, the Contemporary Lead Reporter at Black College Nines, handled the runs, hits, wins, and loses of each game with expert and precise reporting. Coker reported each match played by Bluefield State and the other participants, highlighting each game’s impact on both teams.
My task, on the other hand, was to tell the story of this historic moment. First, I had to find the silent story inherent in a historic Black College World Series held in Montgomery, Alabama, historic for being held in the capital of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the modern era civil rights movement.
To accomplish this task, I set out on the second day of the Series from my home in Atlanta, Georgia, and drove to Montgomery. I missed the matchup between Bluefield State and Xavier University the day before my arrival. According to onlookers, a donnybrook ensued between the Xavier coaching staff and the umpiring crew. The Xavier dugout was chirping at the home plate umpire over balls and strikes. The coaches thought the umpire’s strike zone favored Bluefield State’s batters and pitchers. Two Xavier bench coaches were ejected from the game and were required to sit out for one game.
Arriving in Montgomery four hours before the first pitch, I canvassed the local neighborhood surrounding Riverwalk Stadium home of the Montgomery Biscuits.
I was fascinated with the historical markers within walking distance of the ballpark and the host hotel for the series. There was so much American history; pre-civil war, and post-civil war within reach of college student-athletes. What an excellent opportunity to drive home some historical life lessons, I thought.
I entered the ballpark just as Coach Carlton Hardy brought his Savannah State University Tigers into the park for pre-game warm-ups. In 1973, Savannah State became the first school in the SIAC to have a white student on its baseball team. This student, a catcher whose name I do not recall, also represented Savannah State in the 1973 Conference All-Star game, dumping a “Texas Leaguer” in between me in right field, our second baseman Ruben Riggins, and first baseman Tyrone Phinnesse, putting runners on the corners to spark a ninth inning rally.
Tuskegee would bring in a white baseball player the following season. Today, Savannah State has a majority white baseball team. The school’s two bench coaches are white — a remarkable historical difference from 1973 when I graduated from college.
As the two teams took the field for the National Anthem, I had not found the story. Then a mother of a Black high school student-athlete recognized me from social media and introduced herself. In talking with her family, I learned they drove over from Riverdale, Georgia, because the oldest son was interested in playing baseball at an HBCU. She surveyed the two opponents on the field, Bluefield State and Savannah State. She had a puzzled and amazed look on her face.
The conversation with this family prompted me to seek other people and ask why they came to the Black College World Series. I was surprised to learn that many who did not have a relative on the field came out to witness Black kids playing in a Black College World Series. The assumption being, that a Black college had a bench full of Black baseball players.
As the day wore on and bled into the championship round on the next day, I recognized an irony in the first Black College World Series: While Black youngsters were interested in playing baseball at an HBCU, the dugouts were represented chiefly by White faces. This irony is compounded by the fact that from 1980 until the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, Blacks shunned the HBCUs for Predominately White Institutions (PWIs).
After Obama’s election, Black students at PWIs began to receive the brunt of the White backlash. Racial incidents on PWI campuses became the norm. Practically every Black student at a PWI had experienced a racial incident or had a friend who had been the brunt of racial taunting. Obama’s election, or at least, the fall out from his election, caused a renewed interest in HBCUs, and this interest intensified following the inception of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2014.
In the 1990s, White kids began to accept minority-majority scholarship money to play baseball at HBCUs. Now, Blacks want the HBCU experience, but find they must compete with Whites for roster spots at these schools, which were once the exclusive domain of Black students.
The following day, I spoke with a grandmother from Mississippi who came to cheer on the Xavier team. She was astonished that the winner of the Black College World Series was a majority White team. Her commentled me to the second irony implicit in the first Black College World Series: “This picture doesn’t look good; a white school wins the first Black College Series.”
How fanciful is that?
In the Confederacy and civil rights movement’s historical space, the first Black College World Series Champion is a White, West Virginia school that was initially founded to provide educational opportunities for second-generation descendants of enslaved people.
I did not interpret the Mississippi grandmother’s comments to be a racial expression. I think she was pointing out the irony in the situation. She certainly was not trying to start any trouble.
White parents of a few White Bluefield State players did not understand the irony in the piece, Black Kids Dream Of Playing H.B.C.U. Baseball: While the Face of Black College Baseball Grows Whiter and Whiter.
Wendy Tibbs sent a message to my editor expressing how distressed this article made her.
“It saddens my heart to read this article, and I feel as if it should never have been published. I can only hope and pray that none of our players see this article. Sincerely, Wendy Tibbs ( proud parent of an H.B.C.U. baseball player),” she wrote.
Ms. Tibbs followed her initial message with another one to my editor, urging him to cancel the article or edit it in part, although she does not say which parts to edit.
“I would also like to add to my previous message about this article that it should be removed, or parts should be edited,” she argued.
Tibbs believed that the article was divisive.
Tibbs appears too eager to cancel out a point of view that she does not like, one that goes against her sense of the Anglo-Saxon American ethos.
Should we cancel the thoughts of the Mississippi grandmother? Do her concerns about the viability of HBCUs as an educational component of Black lives survival matter?
HBCSs after all, opened when Blacks were not admitted, at what can only be called Historical White Colleges and Universities. Still today Blacks are not admitted on par with students of European ethnicity; and in recent years are subjected to abject harassment at previously white only colleges and universities.
Tibbs suggests the Bunkley, and Ray families should be rebuked for bringing their sons to see Black College baseball players perform on this large stage. Should Torian and Carlin be disciplined for having the desire to play baseball at an HBCU? Perhaps, Tibbs would have them to wash their mouth out with soap for uttering such thoughts.
And God forbid that White baseball players at HBCUs read about the hopes and dreams of Black high schoolers to play collegiate baseball at an HBCU. How sacrilegious would that be, an abomination unto the Lord?
Danny McRee, a dad of a White Bluefield player took issue with Black colleges as a concept.
“H.B.C.U., HISTORICALLY Black College, no such thing as a black or white college anymore, no?” (Emphasis McRee).
McRee then opined that his Black friend told him that he couldn’t get elite Black athletes to come to Bluefield State because of the cold climate and the only social life was hunting and fishing.
I showed McRee’s comments to one of my many White friends, who said he thought McRee’s comments were racially insensitive. My friend used more vital descriptive words. I relayed my White friend’s impression to McRee. He promptly called my White friend, the three-letter word that ends in “S.S.”
It is apparent McRee failed to see this was a story about the irony of the first Black College World Series and not an indictment on Bluefield State being a White college receiving federal dollars as an HBCU.
Gene Morris chimed in to say, “I’m tired of everything being race-driven…”
As if race is not the driving force that allocates money for White kids to attend Bluefield State. Quite simply, Whites can receive federal money to attend an HBCU more readily than Blacks. The Bluefield campus demographics are all about race. If you are White, there is money to educate you. If you are Black, good luck getting into the University of West Virginia and onto the baseball team.
Morris also, cites the often repeated lie: “Part of this is a lot of black athletics have turned more to football and basketball, and the interest isn’t as high to play baseball.”
The whole point of the article is that Black high schoolers are playing baseball and have a desire to play college baseball, preferably at an HBCU.
Moreover, there are a significant number of Black kids playing baseball all over this country. I have covered them for the past eight years. Last night I attended a practice session with the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association; the former major leaguer has 60 kids from age 13 to 18 in a pro-style training program. He is in his 13th year teaching baseball skills to elite Black baseball players.
Greg “Goody” Goodwin, a legendary Georgia high school baseball coach created the Mentoring Viable Prospects organization in 1999. Each summer MVP brings teams from across the country to compete in a summer ending baseball classic. Chip Lawrence, Executive Director of P. R. O. Foundation, annually brings a team from Sarasota, Florida, to compete against teams in Atlanta.
Manny Upton brings an elite outfit from the Tidewater area in Virginia. Perhaps, a few of Upton’s kids are good enough to play for a school in West Virginia. Teams also come from Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
Black kids are playing baseball. They are not hard to find. All any baseball coach must do is open his eyes, and he will see them. Black baseball players are not invisible. And ironically, these elite Black baseball players want to play at an HBCU. Imagine being locked out of major league baseball and now no room on an HBCU bench.
This is not a laughing matter, as some Bluefield parents suggest, nor is it divisive as other White parents postulate. Surely, discussion of this issue should not be a victim of a White cancel culture paradigm over racial insensitivity. It is a matter that requires the attention of Black college presidents and athletic directors. They must decide the appropriate level of diversity in Black college baseball, and whether there initial mission to service an underserved community has been accomplished to the extent that the mission now changes to serving whoever brings in the most dollars.
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, the HBCU-Pro Sports Media Association, and a member of the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org