Randall Williams | Sports Editor
Hampton University on Oct. 30 became the lone historically black college or university and 26th Division I school with a women’s triathlon team.
“We see our sport as a good pathway, a fresh new look,” USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris said.
“I see USA Triathlon and Hampton University being a gateway to that advancement in the long term.”
So just how serious is USA Triathlon about increasing diversity? Its board of directors invested $225,000 into Hampton’s program over a five-year period.
USA Triathlon also plans on getting involved in Hampton Roads.
“We’re going to have a talent identification camp,” Harris said, “where we can look at high school and college athletes to try to see who could potentially be good student athletes at Hampton, but also be in our elite pipeline for our national team and our Olympic team.”
This isn’t the first time Hampton has made a move like this. Two years ago, the Pirates became the first HBCU to have a Division I men’s lacrosse team. After a slow start, winning only one game in its first two seasons, the team saw a breakthrough last season, finishing 5-8.
Having a lacrosse team has allowed the Pirates to expand their reach. Hampton Athletic Director Eugene Marshall sees the women’s triathlon team doing the same.
“This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide,” Marshall said.
“This is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions. [Women’s triathlon] will take us to 160 countries.”
The decision to add the sport was a surprise to some, including Hampton junior Brendon George.
“I thought we’d add men’s soccer,” George said, “but hearing how big of a deal this is and how much this means to both Hampton and USA Triathlon, I’m happy for my school.”
Tekemia Dorsey, founder and CEO of the International Association of Black Triathletes, was ecstatic.
“This creates a pipeline of untapped opportunity from kids in black communities,” said Dorsey, who has advocated for a move similar to this in Baltimore at Coppin State or Morgan State. “This is what I’ve been praying for. … When they first announced the 26th school, I sat at my computer and cried with joy because it’s needed. … All I can say is I applaud Hampton.”
The Pirates will begin their women’s triathlon team next fall. Sika Henry, an aspiring professional triathlete who competes regularly, wants to help out as much as she can.
“Anyway I can be involved, I 100 percent want to be involved,” Henry said. “In terms of competition, I can give tips and share my experiences to help them get comfortable.”
Hampton has a solid reputation for being forward-thinking and innovative, and with the Pirates adding a women’s triathlon team, this takes their stature to the next level.
I want everybody to look back in 20 years and say, ‘I remember that moment at Hampton University where USA Triathlon and Hampton University decided we’re going to be the first,’” Harris said. “This is the most proud moment I had with USA Triathlon, and I again want to thank Hampton University for taking this bold step.”