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Yard Goats celebrate HBCUs, Negro Leagues

Double-A Hartford hosts three-day ‘leveling the playing field’ event
The celebration included events at the ballpark and in the community and featured former Major Leaguer Tony Womack (right). (SeenSound)
June 22, 2022

While the Hartford Yard Goats were hosting the Akron RubberDucks at Dunkin’ Donuts Park last week, staffer Tiffany Young was spending time away from the stadium, educating the community on institutions that have been essential to the Black experience and history.

While the Hartford Yard Goats were hosting the Akron RubberDucks at Dunkin’ Donuts Park last week, staffer Tiffany Young was spending time away from the stadium, educating the community on institutions that have been essential to the Black experience and history.

Recognizing that the genesis of the Negro Leagues is similar to that of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) -- created out of a lack of opportunity for Black people in an attempt to create equity -- Young saw an opportunity to extend the team's connection to the community with a three-day, multi-faceted event themed "leveling the playing field."

“I thought it was important to actually go into the community instead of always having the expectation that the community is going to come to us,” she said.

A graduate of Norfolk State University, an HBCU in Virginia, Young has worked as Hartford’s director of community partnerships since the club was founded seven years ago. In 2019, Young also took on the role of executive director of the team’s charitable fund, the Yard Goats Foundation.

The foundation hosts dozens of events and outreach programs for the greater Hartford area, which includes the fundraising efforts of the charity events at the ballpark and sponsorship of local Little League programs, among many others. It also supports five college scholarship opportunities for local high school children, all of which come with a tie-in to either an HBCU or Negro League history.

This year’s three-day celebration was an extension of a Negro Leagues Day that the club hosted last July. The original event featured an appearance from Sean Gibson, the great grandson of Negro League legend Josh Gibson and the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, in addition to live music and other entertainment.

To expand on those efforts for this year's event, Young wanted to include the HBCU experience. On the first night, Sean Gibson returned to Hartford -- just before the Josh Gibson traveling museum set up at Segra Park in Columbia -- for a screening of the documentary “Legend Behind the Plate” about the elder Gibson’s life and career. That was followed by a talk back with Sean Gibson and hosted at the South End Boys & Girls Club in Hartford.

The next night was dubbed “An unfiltered panel discussion around racial and gender equality,” which was hosted at a local music venue. The panel was moderated by Jay Williams, president & CEO of The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and included Sean Gibson, former Major Leaguer Tony Womack, Delaware State University baseball coach JP Blandin, Mary-Jane Foster, the president and CEO of national domestic violence hotline Interval House and Cheryl Sharp, a civil rights attorney and deputy director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

“I understood and saw the need for … better engagement and including the entire community -- definitely considering where we are in terms of location,” Young said. “The second event was the same concept. Still going out into the community and having a panel discussion -- obviously, that was geared toward more of an adult audience. But also having an unfiltered conversation about racial equity and gender equity, not just in baseball but outside of baseball as well.”

Young knew that some of the Negro League stories that have gained greater recognition in recent years, like Gibson’s, still might be unknown to some -- especially those in the community she aims to uplift. Providing that foundational education will remain the first step in these events, but there was certainly room for some fun.

“The Negro Leagues were formed because Black people were kept out of the Major Leagues, and the same thing is true for colleges,” Young said. “From that comes excellent, not just athletes, but educators. … So really celebrating all of that Black excellence that was meant to actually exclude us and bringing that to light -- that was how the whole theme of really leveling the playing field came together and bringing those two experiences together.”

The third and final event was a pregame block party at Heaven Skate Park across the street from the ballpark, which featured dancers, DJ’s and marching bands from local schools and Virginia State University, an HBCU in Petersburg, Virginia.

The party moved into the ballpark for the game where there was an on-field ceremony to honor the recipients of Yard Goats Foundation scholarships – some of which bear the names of Josh Gibson, Delaware State University and Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor. Taylor was a Hartford-born Negro Leagues star pitcher that returned home after two years in the Army and baseball’s integration and played with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League in 1949, eight years after his last stint in professional ball.

Much to Young’s delight, all three events were full capacity. She was moved to see different generations of Black families come out to the park and rally around this theme.

“Last year was truly a great success, but you could see the increase in that,” Young said. “Just seeing the families and it really being generational from little kids to older people who really understood the Negro Leagues and celebrating the Negro Leagues and kids coming out here for the college fair aspect of it and learning more about our HBCU's.”

The success of these first two celebrations has Young already looking to aim bigger for next year.

“I'm not going to say that I'm surprised because I think that Black excellence always needs to be celebrated,” Young said. “And I think when that is highlighted, it comes to a celebratory experience. And I'm glad, I'm just elated that everything did work out.”

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for