Login | July 23, 2018

UA looks to bring back baseball, add women’s lacrosse

With the hope of bringing baseball back to The University of Akron, UA is in discussions to have home conference games and possibly non-conference games played at Canal Park, pictured above. (AP file photo).

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 2, 2017

On Oct. 11, The University of Akron Board of Trustees will vote on a proposition to bring back baseball as a varsity sport and to add women’s lacrosse at the same time. If the proposal passes, the two sports will begin play in 2019.

That vote is the culmination of a lengthy process that was initiated by several former UA baseball players immediately following the university’s disbanding of the baseball program after the 2015 season.

“No one gave up hope,” said Kyle Hallett, who was one of four ex-Zips baseball players who founded a website, Facebook page and organization to bring back baseball. Hallett, a catcher from the Chicago area, played with the team from 2005 to 2010. He is currently a police officer back near his hometown.

Pressure to revive the baseball program came from all quarters, said university president Matthew Wilson.

“I came in to the presidency on July 16th, and literally everywhere I went, somebody came up to me and asked about baseball,” he said.

Wilson said he has always been a “baseball guy.” He played in high school in Utah, coaches his children in youth baseball and even credits the sport with his first job in Japan.

The school’s athletic director, Larry Williams, said that he was, “extremely excited about the opportunity to add baseball and women’s lacrosse to our NCAA Division 1 sport offerings.”  

“With them we can more deeply connect with both the historic roots of the community as represented by baseball and the new and growing segment of region that is embracing lacrosse,” he said.

Women’s lacrosse has been the country’s fastest-growing intercollegiate sport since 2000, according to a release by the university. More than 20 Ohio colleges compete in the sport, with Ashland and Kent State University planning to add programs.

Williams said that the baseball team will re-take its place in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), while the lacrosse team’s league will be determined at a later time.

Wilson said that rosters will be drawn primarily from Ohio players which allows the program to help pay for itself (the university receives money from the state for each student so a player who comes to UA to play baseball brings in revenue). Rosters will be about 30 for lacrosse and “at least” 35 for baseball.

Scholarships may be available to players, based upon fundraising, and both Wilson and Hallett are gearing up to conduct the outside fundraising that would pay for the baseball program.

Hallett and former player Tom Farmer (who lives in Boston) have organized golf outings and other fundraisers in the last two years, as well as a Facebook page.

“We told them we would be able to fundraise from 600 former players,” Hallett said. “Now it’s time to put up.”

UA’s baseball team has a long and storied history. According to the university, baseball was the first official sport that The University of Akron played, having been established in 1873. It previously had been disbanded from 1933 to 1946 and, again from 2016 – 2019, for financial and economic reasons.

Over the years, the UA baseball team has sent four players to the major leagues, according to Baseball Almanac. Jack DiLauro (played at Akron in 1962; MLB 1969-70); Mike Birkbeck (Akron 1980-83; MLB 1986-95; currently pitching/ associate head coach at Kent State); Mark Malaska (UAK 1997-2000; MLB 03-04); and Chris Bassitt (UAK 2008-11; MLB 2014-16—currently sidelined with Tommy John surgery recovery).

Bringing the program back required numerous meetings among Williams, Wilson, Hallett and crew and other stakeholders, according to Hallett.

“Larry Williams was always great during the process—responsive and supportive,” said Hallett.

But the work on the programs is really just beginning. Assuming that the board of trustees approves, Williams acknowledges that “we have much work to do,” including hiring coaches and staffs and building rosters.

“We have a detailed timeline for our tasks,” said Williams. “And we will work that plan so that in the spring of 2020 we will be pleased to hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt and the whistles of the lacrosse matches.”