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A college baseball team vies for an NCAA title as the school prepares to close


The nation's top 16 Division III college baseball teams take the field today. They're on the road to this year's baseball championship. But one team will be competing for a school that will soon cease to exist. After years of financial troubles, Birmingham-Southern College is shutting down. This after nearly 170 years in operation. From member station WBHM, Kelsey Shelton has this report.

KELSEY SHELTON, BYLINE: The Birmingham-Southern College Panthers are practicing for the super regionals, the precursor to the College World Series. This team wasn't expected to be here. They hit a lull in the middle of the season when the school announced its closing. Coach Jan Weisberg says it was hard on the team.

JAN WEISBERG: When we found out the news on March 27, we got them together and said, it's OK to have these feelings and to grieve. Now we move on. OK, there's uncertainty.

HANSEN MCCOWN: When the news broke, you know, we shed a lot of tears.

SHELTON: That's pitcher Hansen McCown, a senior on the team.

MCCOWN: It's tough to hear. This place is very special to me and a lot of other guys on the team.

SHELTON: Birmingham-Southern College doesn't have enough money to operate. The private liberal arts college tried to get a $30 million loan from the state earlier this year, but the legislature didn't approve it. Now 1,300 students have to find new schools unless they graduated this year. Luckily, the baseball team is funded by the NCAA and donations. The support from alumni helped get the team out of their slump and they started winning again, says coach Weisberg. And getting into the super regional last week made all the difference.

WEISBERG: The emotions that they had been processing for so long had been negative, you know, uncertainty, pain, worry, anxiety. And just to see that replaced with elation was awesome.

SHELTON: And the players never really gave up, says pitcher Jacob Fields.

JACOB FIELDS: Every single dude on this team came out here every day to practice. We're still, you know, lifting, you know, every single day, doing what we need to be doing to put us in a position to win.

SHELTON: Fields is a freshman, so he's looking for a new school. But he's put off conversations with college recruiters.

FIELDS: I have told all of them that I want to really focus on the team right now. And we can wait to have more conversations after we're done.

SHELTON: Even without a school to play for, players like McCown say the memories he's made with this team will last a lifetime.

MCCOWN: Some people might look at this as, like, a sad story. But to us, you know, we embrace it. Like, when we hit the field, the last thing we're thinking is that this is the last year or the school is closing down. We're just excited to play another game of baseball.

SHELTON: The Panthers will play their first game today in the super regionals against Denison University in Ohio. They're not sure how far they'll go in the tournament, but they hope to hit a home run.

For NPR News, I'm Kelsey Shelton in Birmingham.

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Kelsey Shelton
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