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UCLA Hosts HBCU Howard in Midweek Matchup with Meaning

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UCLA assistant coach Kirk Walker approached junior outfielder Lauryn Carter last October with the team’s 2023 schedule. Walker thought a particular game would pique Carter’s interest.

The Bruins were hosting Howard, one of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country, for a standalone midweek game.

Carter, who is president of UCLA’s Black Student-Athlete Alliance (BSAA), was thrilled to see UCLA have the chance to welcome the Bison to Easton Stadium on Tuesday night at 9 ET. (UCLA Live Stream-2).

“There is not a lot of representation with HBCUs playing on these big stages and I think UCLA is doing a really good job of inclusion and making these stages accessible for these teams and these sports,” Carter said. “I think it is going to be a really great thing for softball being a predominantly white sport and having Howard on this stage.”

The number of Black players in Division I softball hasn’t increased much over the past decade. In the most recent NCAA demographic report, six percent of players were Black, 73 percent were white and 21 affiliated as “other.” The number of Black players has hovered between five and six percent since 2012 while “other” has grown from 13 percent to 21 percent.

In terms of coaching, three percent of all Division I head coaches are Black females and two percent are Black males compared to 58 percent white female and 29 percent white male head coaches in 2022.

The 59 Black female head coaches in Division I in 2022 were down from a high of 70 in 2021 in the last decade of demographic data provided. The lowest number of Black female head coaches in the decade was 37 in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The 23 Black male head coaches in 2022 were down from a high of 41 in 2013.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder and social unrest across the country in 2020, the Pac-12 Conference and the athletic directors of the member schools pledged to do more to combat racism and discuss issues of discrimination and injustice.

As part of that mission, the conference entered a partnership with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) for men’s and women’s basketball to “create a forum for competition and promoting education between the member institutions” with a home-and-home series between teams from the Pac-12 and HBCUs.

The UCLA football team played against an HBCU for the first time when the Bruins hosted Alabama State last September. They will also host North Carolina Central for the upcoming 2023 season at the Rose Bowl.

Although the softball game against Howard, which plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is a separate event, the Bruins plan to have activities in place to highlight diversity. 

Youth teams from South Central L.A. will be in the stands watching the game, and Marty Tyson, the father of Howard head coach Tori Tyson, will throw out the first pitch. Marty Tyson is a prominent travel coach for the Corona Angels.

“He is one of the most respected coaches in softball. He has transformed so many girls’ work ethic and who they are, even some of my teammates past and present,” Carter said. “It is going to be a great night to celebrate Black excellence all around.”

UCLA’s BSAA started in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder in Minnesota when Carter was a freshman. She was immediately drawn to the group.

“They wanted to create a safe space to talk about issues that are not really widely talked about,” Carter said. “It was something that really helped me get through Covid and helped me through some dark times and isolating times.”

Once many of the original leaders graduated, the BSAA needed other athletes to take their place and continue the mission. Carter volunteered to be president.

“I saw it as something I could do to give back for all they did for me,” she said. “Honestly, it’s been one of the best decisions I made this year, not only to be able to meet other student-athletes but be able to implement change and come up with ideas to make things better.”

Now that they can meet in person, the group has hosted meals and socials to interact with each other and other Black groups on campus. During Black History Month in February, the BSAA expanded its social media presence.

“It’s been great for Black athletes to know there are resources outside of the athletic bubble,” Carter said. “Whenever they are going through their sport, they are identified as an athlete. But their sole identity is not based on what they do within the diamond or the court. It’s helping to make athletes know they are more than just athletes.”

The Bruins feature a diverse roster and coaching staff, something that attracted Carter to the program beyond just UCLA’s perennial success and championship history.

“Being around teammates who don’t look like you and you are still expected to excel at the same rate can be hard,” Carter said. “That is why I love seeing a wider range of representation in softball overall. Growing up, I used to mainly only see white pitchers in the circle. But now I see a range of diversity across the NCAA. That is great.”

UCLA has other promotional games planned in the coming months, including an LGBTQ+ game and a Black Excellence game honoring UCLA legend Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

The game against Howard may just seem like a midweek game to some, but it means much more than that to many others.

“It’s not just for us,” Carter said. “It’s for the little Black girls coming to the stadium. It’s so important for them to see they can shine on this stage just as much as anyone else.”

  • This is one of a series of stories D1Softball will be doing throughout the 2023 season to highlight the efforts being made to promote the sport, grow the sport and invest in the sport.