Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Feb. 16, 2021 — Could The First State have the first HBCU with field hockey?

In 1918, a college prep school in Dover, Del. named the Wilmington Conference Academy extended itself into conferring two-year degrees, calling itself the Wesley Collegiate Institute. Six decades later, as Wesley College, the school offered its first four-year degrees.

With many small colleges hitting financial difficulties since the start of the 2008 financial collapse, plus COVID-19, Wesley College had announced plans to seek either a sale or merger by 2021. It had been announced in the summer of 2020 that Wesley, a Methodist school, would be acquired by Delaware State University, a historically Black college which has been around since 1891.

The merger allows Delaware State to acquire all of Wesley College’s buildings in the greater Dover area. In addition, Wesley students are reportedly being offered the option to transfer to Delaware State to complete their degrees.

Yesterday, one of the first signs of the merger was announced, and that was the complete shutdown of all sports at Wesley. This goes for nine women’s sports teams and eight men’s, and that shutdown is effective at the end of the year.

But the merger of the schools allows an opportunity for Delaware State to absorb Wesley’s athletics programs. This includes golf, lacrosse, and a field hockey team with a strong history in Division III. Over the last 25 years, head coach Tracey Short has done remarkable work. The Wolverines have made the NCAA Tournament on three occasions, and barely missed out on a fourth in 2018. On that occasion, the team won the Atlantic East postseason tournament, but finished with a record of 9-10. The team was put in the Pool B teams for the NCAA Division III Tournament Committee for a possible selection to the main bracket, but the Wolverines were not selected.

Question is, will the athletics program at Wesley — a Division III school — be fully absorbed into Delaware State, a Division I school that won’t have any competitors in its usual conference, the MEAC?

I think there is an opportunity here. It would take some effort from administrators, some donors, and the coaching staff in order to make a transition to the D-1 level, but I can see Del State becoming the first HBCU to field a fully-funded varsity field hockey program in the Title IX era.

How? First of all, Delaware is a hotbed for the game of field hockey. The finest scholastic team in the country last fall plays its hockey 50 miles due south on the border with Maryland, and the state has sent some key players go to Division I college, the U.S. women’s national team pool, and the Olympics.

Second, the acquisition of Wesley College by Del State means the acquisition of a football facility on the Wesley West campus — a prime opportunity to redevelop this pitch, or the original Del State stadium, into water-based hockey turf.

Finally, I think the incoming players from Delaware schools to a Delaware State team are likely to be the kinds of people who are more likely to want to participate in such an exciting and groundbreaking project. Field hockey players in Delaware go to a number of specialized schools — Roman Catholic, Christian, prep, charter, STEM, and military schools are part of the educational landscape of the First State. I therefore think the players who might choose to play field hockey at the merged Delaware State University are the kinds of people who don’t worry about the identity of their particular school. All they want to do is win.

I hope this opportunity to add diversity, equity, and inclusion to the sport in America is acted upon and given a chance to grow, unlike so many such efforts of the past.

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