How HBCU Baseball Head Coaches Have Dealt With The Coronavirus

As the college baseball season started in 2020, the Coronavirus was already out mapping its way to the U.S. The disease, caused by a new coronavirus, has been confirmed in every state. Once the alarming levels of the spread took place, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic this past March 11. The decision and its effects hit collegiate baseball hard as the HBCU baseball season was forced to deal with the inevitable. All conferences canceled the remainder of their baseball seasons.

Both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) canceled all remaining spring baseball games. This decision was based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat.

The largest looming matter was how to handle the 2020 baseball season and the fallout. There was a financial hit when the season was canceled as more than half of the remaining 1650 HBCU games were lost because of the virus.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the U.S. and schools, workplaces and public gathering spaces remain closed, how are HBCU baseball head coaches adapting their behavior in light of the outbreak?

What follows is an in-depth report :

James Randall – Claflin University

“I stay engaged with our current student-athletes through GroupMe app updating them daily on the number of deaths this virus has caused each day to bring awareness of the importance of social distance. Recruiting is challenging, this is prime time for recruiting in the sport of baseball, so making phone calls, and having additional contacts helps.”

Aaron C. Stevens – Mississippi Valley State University

“These are some crazy times but if we use it the right way I believe we can be better for it. I know it doesn’t seem like it but we are actually ahead of where we would be in recruiting if we were still playing. Recruits usually have us wait until the last minute before they decide but since the season was cut short everybody is waiting unless they were on the board already. We actually recruit in real time so this can be a help, but if I’m not almost done or done by June it could turn on me as we look forward to getting on the other side of this and working toward the 2020-2021 season.”

James Koerner – North Carolina Central University

“It is still too early to tell the extent to which this pandemic will ultimately affect us. I believe the biggest hurdle right now is if college football will be played in the fall. If there isn’t college football, with fans, then I would expect budgets to be affected significantly.”

Kerrick Jackson – Southern University

“Although we would rather be playing games during this time of the year, we are instead using this time to develop holistically. We are challenging our players to do some critical thinking, and self-evaluation, ultimately leading them to a better sense of self. We are accomplishing this through a team read, as well as having group discussions on specific topics. This will, in turn, allow them to have a better understanding of who they are on the field, positioning them to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. But more importantly, equipping them with the tools that will be necessary for them to be successful productive males in our society.”

Sherman Reed – Coppin State University

“It’s been a world-wind since I had to announce to the entire team shortly after our practice on Thursday, March 12th that the season had been placed on hold. We were scheduled to head up to Philadelphia for a three game series at Villanova the following morning when the word came down from our Athletic Director. Little did we know that those 13 games would end up being what I now call- “Bonus games for those young players. Me and my Coaching Staff have not let-up doing the Covid-19 shut down. We are racking up large hours working the phones with potential recruits, touching base with the 2020 recruiting commits, and concluding our year-end meetings with each and every one of our returning players given this unfortunate shutdown.”

Ben Hall – North Carolina A&T University

“Obviously this is a tough time and as frustrating as it was to have the season shut down, our guys really showed maturity in handling it and moving forward. I am just proud of our program and our players; to have 100% of our seniors turn down career opportunities and want to return in 2021; and our Athletic Dept. support them financially is a big deal. It really speaks to our culture both in the program and on campus. We just try to stay in touch, make sure they have what they need to finish their classes the right way and prepare for a big 2021 year. There are still a lot of unknowns but we are preparing to get back to work in the fall semester.”

Michael Holochuck – Jarvis Christian College

“During this time our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected by this terrible virus. There has been so many players across the country that have had baseball taken away. My hope for all of them especially the seniors that they have played the game as hard and as long as they could with no regrets. During this time we have had to rely more on technology then ever before to continue to communicate with our players to continuously check on there well being, I would also like to honor the 2020 baseball class of Jarvis Christian College. These five seniors; Chandler Matthews, Phillip Griego, Kevin Ciprian, Romeo Romero, and Houston Williams will unfortunately will never have a senior day, last game and one last playoff run with the boys. They will always be remembered for there leadership, dedication, and many successes.

Keith Shumate – Norfolk State University

“We have focused on academics and praying for our fellow Americans and all people around the world suffering from the virus. While there is speculation that the program may suffer cuts, we are focusing on how to help each other. We are thankful for each other. That’s our culture.”

Carlton Hardy – Savannah State University

“We are extremely happy to play the game of baseball. The opportunity to work throughout the fall to build chemistry throughout the team to be able to compete in the spring is something that I have enjoyed doing with the program at Savannah State for over a decade. COVID-19 has allowed our program to the benefit of reflecting on our passion to play this wonderful game and represent Savannah State University. We look forward to returning in the fall and cherish every practice and game in the spring as this is something we truly miss.”

Omar Jackson – Jackson State University 

“The COVID-19 pandemic had affected all spring sports at Jackson State University. Jackson State has supported and will continue to support its student-athletes through this difficult and unsure time. Seniors who choose to return for their extra season of eligibility will have that option to do so.” 

Reginald Hollins – Tuskegee University Baseball

“COVID-19 forced a new normal online classroom setting for our student athletes. Kudos to the Presidents staff, Student SGA, professors, and athletic academic staff for guiding a smooth transition during these tough times. COVID-19 not only cancelled our 2020 baseball season but it delayed the Return to Washington Field. For the last 8 years our program has played all home games at Paterson Field located in Montgomery, AL. We have continued to make small progression to improve our facility renovation project even through COVID-19. Our new expected return to Washington Field will be during the 2021 season.”

Kendrick D. Biggs – Wiley College

“The coronavirus has hit all schools hard. It’s been hardest on recruiting. Not getting the chance to actually see kids play. I’ve had to rely a lot on video and coaches word of mouth. We will still look to recruit a strong class.”

Florentino Burgos – Florida Memorial University

“COVID-19 has affected our baseball program in numerous ways. Just as the team was finding their grove, the season was cut short. We did not have the opportunity to play games we were anticipating since the end of our season last spring. Most of our seniors will graduate at the end of the spring semester. We all miss the comradery of the team experience. As far as recruiting, high schools and junior colleges also did not have a full season, so I have been unable to see potential recruits compete firsthand. Therefore, I am relying on pre-recorded video sessions and the word of mouth of trusted coaches. Furthermore, potential recruits do not have the opportunity to visit the campus and see our baseball facilities. Therefore, decision-making, for incoming players and me, is requiring more faith than usual.”

Brian Hollamon – University Maryland Eastern Shore

“The COVID-19 epidemic has affected the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in multiple ways. The players in our program and around the country have spent large amounts of their lives training to get the opportunity to compete at the Division 1 level. That opportunity for us was discontinued on March 12, 2020. Our players went from rigid sun-up to sun-down schedules, including school, study hall, tutoring, weight training, conditioning, practice, games, etc. to almost nothing. Many of our players are working diligently on-line to complete their course work and having to find creative ways to get their training in. More importantly, our players are psychologically having to wrap their heads around how they are going to proceed in the future. The hope is that this epidemic allows us to proceed in the future with a better understanding of how things happen, how quick you can lose things dear to you, and how to problem solve creative ways to work around any obstacles you face.”

Rob Henry – Kentucky State University

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our program in ways that will be felt for a while. Our players lost out on 30 games and a conference tournament opportunity, but they also stand to lose another 10-15 games next spring due to budget considerations. It also put a stop to our plans to install a new scoreboard and fencing for the time being, as guidelines regarding essential businesses and facility access have halted many planned projects. Beyond the field, our student-athletes are working through a new academic model of online learning, which may have a beneficial or detrimental impact on their academic performance. It’s our hope we are moving toward a solution towards opening back up our society safely, but the COVID-19 impact is one that will be felt for years to come.”

Patrick Barbour – Lane College 

“The 2020 season was going to be our best year. For small schools like ours, the window for winning a championship opens every four years. This years senior class of 16 players has persevered through four coaching changes and a lot of adversity. Moving forward as we look toward the 2020-2021 school year, our program will look to build on the successes that the class of 2020 has achieved.”

Auntwan Riggins – Prairie View A&M University

“The closure of the 2020 season for the panthers was difficult to phantom as news spread regarding to the suspension of the season. As spread of the news came in early March, the team and coaches had one main question: What is next? In April, the NCAA made some clarifications regarding eligibility or senior as well as all players which gave PVAMU Panthers what could happen in 2021. This pandemic has allowed the team to use different methods to keep in touch with players in regards to the program called Zoom. As today, all players and coaches have not being seriously affected by the pandemic but we encourage all to practice good habits with social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks. Hopefully, we will be back to normal by late summer so we can get back to work as the panther pursuit the journey towards a SWAC championship.”

Curtis Bilbrey – Harris Stowe State University

“This has affected our program in ways we don’t even know yet. This fall will be very important for many universities and athletic departments. The way we fundraise, practice, travel, team functions are all unknowns. Currently our biggest adjustment has been moving to online in the middle of a semester. Our university has done a great job leading our students through the transition. William Carey who is our Director of Eligibility has been very much on top of handling our student athletes needs. I want to thank him for his leadership during this difficult times not only for our baseball program but our whole athletic department.”

Anthony Pla – Lincoln University (PA)

“When our program first heard about the season being cancelled due to this virus, we were stunned, angry, and had so many questions. Being one of the first institutions in our area, our players took it rather hard. We had something going this year early and everyone saw it happening. It seemed as though we finally started to turn the page and we were working hard and playing harder. Unfortunately, we lose one of our seniors who is graduating and starting life after Lincoln. However, we had a chance to reevaluate individuals and where we are, and I believe now, we have a great idea of where we want to go. As a team, we are trying to stay positive and looking forward to the next time we get to see everyone again. We hope everyone stays safe during this time, listen to your local officials, and take every precaution you can. We want to have all of us on the field again soon!”

Selwyn Young – Benedict College

“The Benedict College Tigers were scheduled to play their first conference weekend series against Kentucky State when the season was cancelled on March 14. The Tigers were 6-5 and led the nation in stolen bases per game and on-base percentage at that time. The Tigers return nearly the entire team for the 2021 season.”

Melvin Marshall – Paine College

“Paine baseball was devastated by the news of the covid19 virus. Excitement was in the air about the season and start of conference play. Our season started off to a decent start. One of the best starts of the season during my tenure at Paine. The team did not have any seniors. Hopefully the team will return next season and pick up where we left off.”

Sean Loyd – West Virginia State University

“The recent outbreak affected the WVSU Baseball program like it did everyone. It was an abrupt end to the season. I agree that it is dangerous times with serious consequences if we don’t follow directions. As coaches, our primary responsibility is the health and well being of our student athletes. Once we stopped playing and it was announced that the athletes would get their year of eligibility restored, my focus shifted to assisting with an academic plan for each player. We have stayed in communication with our players. We get updates on workouts that they doing and make sure course work is being taken care of properly. We are anxious for the time when it is safe for everyone to return to a level of normalcy. Until then, we have just tried to be as supportive as possible for our kids.”

Merrill L Morgan – Virginia State University

“Covid-19 has affected our program in many ways. First with our season ending abruptly, it really destroyed our team morale. We had won 11 out of our last 15 games,( 6 out of 7). This left us wondering what could have happen to our season. We felt we were beginning to play well as a team. It also impacted our student- athletes academically. The transition to online learning from in class studies was an adjustment for some early in the process. Most have responded well. Now with the economic impact to our country it will definitely affect our program. When we return almost certainly our budgets will be cut. Unfortunately this will leaving us with possible travel and game restrictions. This is unprecedented times. We will prepared for the worst but hope for the best.”

Michael Robertson – Texas Southern University

“Despite having an influx of newcomers and several close defeats to open the season, the Texas Southern baseball team was beginning to gel when word was received that the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19. The Tigers made history with a win over No. 4 Mississippi State on Feb. 25 and won 7-of its next 10 games, including back-to-back SWAC series. Like the rest of the school’s 15 sports, everything is in a holding pattern due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 in terms of what will happen in the future. The priority as of now is to make sure the current student-athletes stay on track academically in addition to preparing for the 2020-21 academic year.”

Justin Graves – Alabama A&M University Director of Sports Information

The Alabama A&M baseball season ended on March 11 when the NCAA canceled its spring season, and the student-athletes were sent home the following week when the campus closed to everyone except essential employees. The majority of AAMU’s seniors plan to return for the following season with the NCAA legislation that has granted them an extra year of eligibility, but the program currently is undergoing a coaching search.

1 comment for “How HBCU Baseball Head Coaches Have Dealt With The Coronavirus

  1. Great work catching up with all these coaches. I was happy to read about seniors getting a chance to reclaim their lost seasons in 2021. My concern is the financial hit and how baseball programs could be on the budgetary chopping block.

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