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Hampton adds women’s triathlon program

It’ll be only HBCU with a team and one of 26 programs in the U.S.

9:56 AMAfter joining the Big South Conference last year, Hampton University has found another way to expand its brand and reach. It will officially add the triathlon as a varsity sport. It is the first historically black college or university (HBCU) to do so.

“This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide. This is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions. …. So, this will take us to 160 countries. Can you imagine 160 countries rocking the blue and white?” asked athletic director Eugene Marshall.

Four years ago, Hampton hit a milestone by becoming the first HBCU to add an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse team and women’s soccer team, a sport that wasn’t even sponsored by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Incorporating the women’s triathlon into Hampton’s varsity sports roster will be a similar process. Hampton enjoys being championed as the “first and only.”

“This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide. This is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions. So, this will take us to 160 countries.”

USA Triathlon will help get the program up and running with a $225,000 grant that can be used over five years. Together, Hampton and USA Triathlon have both pledged to not only diversify the sport at the college level but also help the community on a grassroots youth level.

“I see USA Triathlon and Hampton University being a gateway into expanding our sport into the community and being groundbreaking on helping raise the participation numbers of African-Americans,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO. He and other USA Triathlon staff came to Hampton’s waterfront to announce the program.

Hampton will be the 26th school nationally to make the triathlon a varsity sport and the first school in the Big South to do so. For Tekemia Dorsey, the program couldn’t come soon enough. Dorsey is the founder and CEO of the International Association of Black Triathletes, as well as the only African-American female USA Triathlon Certified Race Director, Level 1, Youth & Junior and Youth & Junior ELITE coach in America.

“I cried when I found out Hampton would be the 26th school. You don’t know how much this means to me, my organization and my kids who are youth triathletes themselves,” Dorsey said.

“Being an HBCU grad myself [University of Maryland-Eastern Shore], I have been pushing for UMES, Coppin, Morgan State and even Howard to look into adding triathlon as a sport. The one thing I always kept hearing was, ‘Go talk to Hampton, see if Hampton will do it.’ So it all came full circle for me. Gives me a way to tell the inner-city youth you can go to an HBCU and excel at this sport, and academically.”

Hampton plans to have the triathlon program operational by the fall of 2019 and is looking to offer opportunities to six to eight prospective student-athletes to spearhead the program in year one and then work its way to 14 to 16 student-athletes for a full team roster. Local triathlon clubs and Hampton track coach Maurice Pierce will be asked to help find talent for the new team.

Athletic director Marshall will use the same approach taken to build the women’s soccer and men’s lacrosse teams: build it slowly and sustainably. There’s no timetable now on a schedule being set up, as the sport stretches across all three NCAA divisions and no other Big South school fields a team.

“Being local, living in Newport News, I would want to be involved in any way possible, in terms of helping find athletes, giving speeches or anything. But I hope to be involved, yes, 100 percent if I can,” said Sika Henry, an aspiring professional triathlete. She’s one of the few African-American women competing in the sport. Although she did not attend an HBCU, she has been vocal about the need for more diversity.

“Hampton is predominantly black, will be more visible and open doors for the next generation of African-American triathletes,” she said.

Even if other HBCUs don’t follow suit, Dorsey is pleased with the first step made by the university.

“Even if another HBCU doesn’t do it, we’re still in there. Thank you, Hampton University. This means a lot,” said Dorsey.