MEAC's Minority Rule

Graham Johnson and Matt Mansfield
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is full of historically black colleges but an increasing number of whites, such as Graham Johnson and Matt Mansfield, pictured, are filling up the baseball rosters of those schools. (Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tommy Stratchko plays first base and designated hitter for Coppin State University in Baltimore. His twin brother, Bernie, plays third base for the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Three years ago, when their mother Norma first heard the acronym HBCU, she had to ask what it meant. Today, when the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference -- a collection of historically black colleges and universities -- begins its baseball tournament in Norfolk, Norma Stratchko and her husband will be in the stands and their sons will face each other on the field.

That two white twin brothers from La Plata would be starters for a pair of predominantly black schools is hardly even noteworthy in black college baseball circles. Only one of the MEAC's seven baseball teams had a majority-black roster this season, and nearly half of the league's players were white, according to interviews with coaches and sports information directors. At some historically black schools, the ratio of black players to white players is almost the exact opposite of the ratio of black students to white students.

"If you saw these teams without their uniforms, you wouldn't even know they're HBCU anymore," said Claudell Clark, who played and now coaches at Norfolk State. "We're just trying to recruit the best possible athlete we can get, white or black. We're not necessarily concerned with that."

The shrinking number of black baseball players is a much-noted trend that stretches across all levels of the game. Last season, 8.5 percent of Major League Baseball players were African American, down from 18 percent in 1991, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. In the 2004 season, just 6 percent of Division I baseball players were black, according to an NCAA survey, compared with 58 percent of basketball players and 44 percent of football players.

But on campuses that are often 85 or 90 percent black, the MEAC's baseball rosters are especially striking. At Coppin State, about half of the school's 30 white male students play for the baseball team. At league powerhouse Bethune-Cookman, about half of the school's 30 Hispanic male students do the same.

Coaches at historically black schools tell stories of attending showcase events for high school seniors and seeing just four or five black faces among 200 prospects. At their schools, the situation is reversed; white players on several MEAC teams said they're often the only non-black students in their classes and are easily identified as baseball players merely by walking through campus.

"I look at the pictures on my wall; when I started, the team was predominantly black and we had maybe one or two white kids, and you look at it 10 years later and it was split down the middle," said Florida A&M Coach Joe Durant, who has spent 15 years at the Tallahassee school. "You want to look for the African American kids first, because we're a predominantly black university, but when you can't find 'em, you can't find 'em. . . . [Coach] Danny Price from Florida International, he looked at my team and said, 'Damn Joe, you've got more white kids than I do.' "

Whether this is even worth mentioning is a matter of some debate. White players, who in some cases have been asked repeatedly about their school choice by friends and media members, said their minority status is insignificant.

"Baseball is baseball no matter where you go," said Bernie Stratchko, a phrase repeated by players of different races at different schools.

Administrators at several schools said the racial makeup of their teams is never discussed with coaches, that there are no racial quotas or goals and that coaches are merely expected to recruit athletes who are able to compete at the Division I level.

"We don't play baseball because of color," UMES acting athletic director Keith Davidson said. "We play baseball because in order to be a Division I program you have to have 14 sponsored sports, and baseball is one of the ones we chose to play."

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