NEW ORLEANS -- The Andre Dawson Classic features teams that are mostly categorized as HBCU -- Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But the tournament isn't limited to only schools that fall under that purview. In the event's 12-year history, several non-HBCU schools have been invited to participate as well, including
NEW ORLEANS -- The Andre Dawson Classic features teams that are mostly categorized as HBCU -- Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But the tournament isn't limited to only schools that fall under that purview. In the event's 12-year history, several non-HBCU schools have been invited to participate as well, including this year's lone non-HBCU team -- Eastern Kentucky University.
EKU embodies many of the ideals Major League Baseball supports through its diversity and inclusion programs, which made it a logical program to invite to the tournament taking place this weekend at the MLB New Orleans Youth Academy. A lot of that can be traced to its head coach, Edwin Thompson, who has been proactively involved in MLB's development programs over the years, has recruited heavily from those programs, and boasts a current roster that features at least six players from those MLB-sponsored groups.
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In a sport that is on a never-ending mission to diversify at every level, Thompson is, in many ways, a perfect partner for MLB. He has a diverse roster filled with players from all different backgrounds. And beyond recruiting, he has been a vocal advocate for MLB's development programs -- he's been a guest speaker in the past, offering guidance to young athletes about the best way to find a college that fits them, and how to get accepted into those schools.
For Thompson, who is one of the few -- very, very few -- African-American head coaches for non-HBCU Division I schools in the country, race is not the No. 1 issue; "recruiting good people" is his focus.
"That's what I always try to do -- find people that buy into the vision that we have as a program, what we're trying to do," Thompson said, before EKU's 11-2 win over Florida A&M Saturday evening. "To be good students, be good men and want to be really good baseball players. All those factors are things that I take into play."
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Still, it doesn't hurt that Thompson carries high levels of credibility with his peers and his players.
His resume includes two seasons with Duke University, where he gained notoriety as the only black recruiting coordinator in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He is also the only black head baseball coach in the Ohio Valley Conference, and as an undergrad, he played for an HBCU school -- Howard University -- before it disbanded its baseball program.
"I'm a byproduct of HBCU system," Thompson said. "My dad was a hall of famer at Delaware State in football. So I've known about the HBCU schools, baseball, and athletics in general. Every kid, it's about finding the right fit for them. HBCU, non-HBCU, it's about finding the right fit."
In the past, the Andre Dawson Classic has included non-HBCU schools such as the University of Illinois at Chicago -- Curtis Granderson's alma mater -- the University of New Orleans, Louisiana State University and San Diego State University.
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Thompson said the invitation to participate in the Classic was an honor, and an ideal way, competitively and weather-wise, to start off the baseball season.
"It's a great setup at the Youth Academy, and there are just really good teams," he said. "A lot of times, the HBCU doesn't get enough recognition in general in baseball.
"There's really good players and coaches and really good teams. Playing in a competitive tournament to start the year was going be of benefit for the team long-term and throughout the season."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.