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Birmingham-Southern College Baseball: Against All Odds, The Team That Could

On the very day that Birmingham-Southern College will close its doors for good, their baseball team will play in the Division III College World Series.

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BSC

After years of financial struggle and many attempts to avoid it, Birmingham-Southern College officially closed its doors on May 31, 2024. But don’t tell their baseball team that. On the very same day, these student athletes proudly donned uniforms branded in the 168-year-old liberal arts school’s colors and attempted to complete their true Cinderella season with a national championship. The BSC Panthers just might be the team that could.

The school’s financial problems and closure have dominated local news headlines in Birmingham for the last few years. The shuttering of this academic institution not only means students other than graduating seniors are scrambling to find where they can transfer to finish their education, but there has also been a ripple effect throughout the city as the faculty and staff are now all also looking for new jobs. The local restaurants and businesses nearby that regularly entertain the students and employees of the college are likely to feel the impact of the loss. The closure of BSC impacts nearly all of Birmingham in some way. But amongst this sad news, a glimmer of hope that is almost too fantastical to be real. A true story playing out in real time that seems much more likely to be the plot of a Disney movie.

The first glimpse of what has now turned out to be the unavoidable tragic end to BSC came a few years back. Without financial help, there was no future. City and state officials raised money to prevent the closure but an opposing political force blocked the deal. Despite this, Coach Jan Weisberg and assistant coach JD Hulse kept the baseball program competitive and strong. As Joseph Goodman for AL.com reported, their struggle became how to recruit players to a school on the verge of closing. “But Weisberg and Hulse managed to bring in 12 freshmen for what would turn out to be the final year of the school.”

The team even made it to number 1 in their division last year. But as the news became final, that there was no hope to save the school, the team hit a slump in early March of this year.  Then, things turned around and the Panthers managed to win 17 of 21 games. This helped them earn an at-large bid to the NCAA D-III playoffs. They won a regional tournament and then moved on to play in a super regional. That is where this story took yet another cinematic turn.

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BSC swept the three game series against Denison but the final game was won under quite dramatic circumstances–one third of the team was suffering from food poisoning from a pasta dinner in the hotel the night before. With players hooked up to IV fluids on the sidelines, the Panthers still pulled out a 7-6 victory. And with that hard-fought win, the team earned their spot in the D-III College World Series. They will play their first game on Friday, the very day their school will shutter for good.

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BSCB

The entire BSC community and the greater Birmingham community has continued to rally around this against-all-odds team. A local restaurant held a send off party Tuesday night open to the public and a GoFundMe fundraiser provided the means for the team to fly to Ohio for the College World Series on private, chartered planes.

Just ahead of take off on Wednesday, Southern Living spoke with two players, both right-handed pitchers, Carter Tyus and Connor Adams. The two juniors seem to understand the reverence of this moment, and that on the field they are representing not just themselves, but the entire Birmingham Southern community, both past and present. “It means a lot for BSC Baseball to be the last thing that the BSC community can remember. We hold that with a lot of pride… it’s an honor," Tyus said. He added, “ it doesn’t change our mission. We’re winning as a team and we’re working for each other.”

As Tyus and Adams head to Ohio to represent Birmingham-Southern one last time, what happens after whatever happens out on the baseball diamond remains uncertain for both players, as it does for most of the BSC student body. Tyus, who is studying marketing and psychology told us, “I know I’m going to stay in the Birmingham area and if a baseball opportunity arises, it does. Either at UAB or Samford. And that would be a chance to walk on there maybe. But yeah I am going to stay in the Birmingham area. I may go to Belhaven University in Mississippi, that’s a possibility for me but yeah those are really my three main schools right now.”

For Adams, a double major in computer science and philosophy, things are a little different. The games BSC competes in during the World Series will be the last ones Adams plays. He had back surgery last fall and he told us, "I’m not going to be playing anymore after this. And so I’m just playing for myself and my teammates.” He will be leaving it all out on the field and next year he hopes to transfer to Berry College, although admitting “as much of a rivalry we have, I will just be going for academics because they’re pretty close to BSC’s curriculum and I’ve heard their academics are pretty great.”

Tyus said that the challenges he’s faced this year taught him a lot about “togetherness and selflessness.” He explained, “Just to play for the person in front of you instead of yourself. Everyone has a role in this time of year during the season and you know everyone pretty much knows their role and as long as you execute that to a T, you’ll be fine.”

Adams reflected on a similar lesson. “I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is just being somebody for someone. Whether that’s BSC being somebody for the community. This team being for past alumni, being someone for each other especially during a time of the school closing. And I think the professors being someone for us.”

He shared his gratitude and acknowledgement of how his professors were accommodating and helpful when he had to miss class or assignment due dates for baseball games. “I’ve had a lot of great professors here that have taught me things, especially about being someone for somebody.”

The Panthers play their next game on Sunday June 2, against University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at 5p.m. EST.

As your Birmingham neighbors, we are rooting for y’all. Forward, ever.

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Read the original article on Southern Living.