There is a new dimension to athletics that is taking shape at some of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The dimension involves sports that, until recently, were offered primarily by historically white higher education institutions. Women’s soccer, sailing and golf are three such activities.
Howard University is breaking new ground as the nation’s only HBCU that has a women’s soccer team and Hampton University, located on the Virginia’s coast, is developing its sailing program. Benedict College, where the coach is looking to improve the resumes of its graduates who go into business, has a golf team in place for the first time. However, the team will not officially be competitive until next year.
At Spelman College, parental interest in soccer and student interest in golf is growing to the point where the school is considering forming teams to compete intercollegiately.
Howard Making Athletic History
In its second year at Howard, women’s soccer obtained varsity status partly because of Title IX, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) gender equity provision. Support from the men’s soccer program also played a key role in the women’s game being added to the school’s sports mix.
Howard’s inaugural season of 1995 was much like that of an expansion team in professional sports. The Bison were winless in ten matches and coach Michelle Street recalls several instances when referees asked her if she wanted to stop the matches because her team was losing so badly. She declined all invitations to throw in the towel.
Although the Bison, which competes at the NCAA’s highest level, hasn’t joined a soccer conference yet, the team fills its slate with Division I schools such as Youngstown State (Ohio), American (D.C.), Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth, Radford College (Va.), Georgetown, Buffalo, Niagara, and University of Maryland-Baltimore County. During that inaugural season, Street had problems scheduling Division I opponents because the Bison’s level of competition was so far below par that teams didn’t want to play them.
That is no longer the case. Howard finished its season 3-10 and while the wins didn’t come on a regular basis, Street feels that better days are coming.
“This year has been kind of rough. We’ve had opportunities to win, but we haven’t finished as strongly as we needed to,” says Street. “Our victories aren’t always in wins and losses, but in how much we’ve improved since last season. Statistically, we’re matching up much better against opponents. People who took us lightly last year, aren’t doing that this year.”
So far, Street has yet to sign any recruits, which means the team is composed of walk-one who played the game in high school. “The first year, we played iron-man soccer,” explains Street. “We had only twelve players on our roster. You need eleven to play, so we had only one player on the bench. Now we have a solid starting unit and we can substitute for most positions.”
Street feels that it’s only a matter of time before Howard begins to attract college soccer prospects. The team already has an international flavor, with players from Trinidad, Bermuda and Jamaica.
“I look for players in the same places as other college coaches,” she says. “There are top-quality Black soccer players out there. It’s just a matter of convincing them to our to our school.”
Street has no doubts that the program is on the right track. “Now we know what to expect on and off the field,” she says. “Our ladies know the kind of commitment that’s needed to excel. We have the support and the excitement level is high with this being a history-making team. The camaraderie has been wonderful.”
Hampton Setting Sail
Competitive sailing is creating its own unique niche at Hampton. Also in its second year of competition, the Pirates are another team that is beginning to hold its own against well-established opponents.
A Board of Trustees member and two faculty members played key roles in organizing the team. Gary Jobson, the trustee, is well-known in sailing circles as a television commentator and as a member of the U.S. team captained by Ted Turner that won the Americas Cup in 1977. Drs. Warren Buck and Ben Sucker, the faculty members, are both long-time sailing enthusiasts.
The first block in building the program was hiring Gary Bodie as coach. Bodie has twenty years of college coaching experience. He guided top-flight programs at the Naval Academy and Old Dominion University.
“From the start, the program has always gotten excellent support from the top,” says Bodie. “The feeling has always been that [sailing] is something the university can do — and do well.”
Hampton’s geography is made-to-order for sailing. The campus is located on the Hampton River which opens into Hampton Roads Harbor. The school already has a fully operational marina, another added plus.
Sailing is a bit different from other college sports. It’s a non-scholarship, co-ed sport. The Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association (ICYRA) — not the NCAA — is the sport’s governing body. “At Hampton, the gender mix on the eleven-member team is six women and five men. In this sport,” says Bodie, “women can compete without having to worry about [men’s] size and strength advantage. There are only a few instances where strength makes a big difference.”
Competition-wise, Hampton regularly faces some of the nation’s best in ICYRA’s Mid-Atlantic Region during the fall and spring seasons. For example: Old Dominion, St. Mary’s (Md.), Georgetown and Navy are Top-10 teams in ICYRA’s national rankings with which the Pirates compete. Other opponents include Christopher Newport (Va.), Salisbury State (Md.), the University of Maryland, George Washington, and Loyola of Baltimore.
The Hampton squad, comprised solely of walk-one, has shown healthy signs of coming of age. “We have the same team we did last year,” Bodie explains. “And we’re solidly competitive. Last year, we finished last a lot of times. Right now, we’re finishing tenth out of fifteen teams in the tournaments we compete in. So we’re clearly moving up, beating teams now that we hadn’t beat before, and winning by bigger margins over teams that we had beaten previously.”
Bodie is pleased with what his team has been able to accomplish so far. But he also knows that getting experienced sailors on his team will take the sport to a higher level at Hampton.
“It’s hard to recruit Blacks who have previous racing experience,” Bodie says. “In the Caribbean, you’ll find good sailors, some are world-class. Here in the U.S., there is growth in the public sailing programs that are providing more access to those who haven’t been exposed to the sport. We’re trying to do what we can to connect those opportunities.”
Tee Time at Benedict
Lucius Clark has been an avid golfer for years. Now, the retired Social Security administrator is using his passion to help construct a program at Benedict College. “When you add golf to your resume,” Clark says, “it’s a plus to your background. It’s such a complement to your whole repertoire when dealing in the business world.”
With that logic, Clark convinced the other members of Benedict’s Board of Trustees that golf should be added to the school’s athletic offerings. Although the team was formed this September, it won’t compete in college tournaments until fall 1997.
Clark, who is the team’s unpaid volunteer coach, feels it will not take too long for Benedict to make respectable showings in tournaments. “It’s gonna take some time, but we’ll get three,” he says. “We’re looking for young people who can play. There’s enough raw talent [at the junior level] in South Carolina to get us going. But the biggest challenge will be getting minority girls involved. That’s why we’ll start our own junior program next spring. That way, we can bring kids in where they get two or three years to develop.”
Clark realizes that he will need to develop several funding sources to help sustain his program. He has a $25,000 yearly budget with which to work. He also has received funds through the Purple & Gold Skins (dame, a competition that he has sponsored for the past two years to benefit Benedict’s golfing aspirations.
“We don’t have deep pockets, so we’ll take all the help we can,” he says. “The South Carolina Junior Golf Association will donate clubs for all the kids playing at Benedict.” When Benedict tees it up next fall, the list of opponents will be a mix of schools from the NCAA and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which includes selected colleges in the predominantly Black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Says Clark: “We have five on the team right now. Three shoot in the high 70s, low 80s. We’re looking for a fourth person who can shoot in the low 80s to help us be competitive when we start playing next year.” Interest Level Rises at Spelman If demand continues to increase, soccer and golf could become part of the sports offerings at Spelman College.
As it stands now, Spelman will have club-level soccer next spring with twenty-two women on the roster. The group started training this fall and will probably compete against other dub programs in and around the Atlanta area.
“There’s a lot of interest there,” says Dr. Dorothy Richey, Spelman’s athletics director. “We’ve had a lot of parents calling, telling us they want their kids to play soccer.” Golf, on the other hand, is a sport about which more students are asking. As at Benedict, the reason for the high-level interest is that students feel they need golf to help them build careers in the corporate arena, according to Richey.
To test the level of student interest i golf, Spelman will have an intramural tournament next spring. Based on the response, golf could emerge as a club sport in a relatively short period of time.
“We already have some young ladies who played in high school and at the country clubs who can compete collegiately,” says Richey.
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