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Birmingham-Southern makes the College World Series, even as the school closes

The NCAA logo painted on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park as Oral Roberts takes infield before the start of a NCAA baseball game against TCU on June 4, 2022 in College Station, Texas.
Sam Craft
/
AP
The NCAA logo painted on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park as Oral Roberts takes infield before the start of a NCAA baseball game against TCU on June 4, 2022 in College Station, Texas.

The Birmingham-Southern College Panthers couldn't hold in their joy. After beating Denison University, 7-6, the Alabama baseball team bolted to the center of the field and joined in a massive celebratory hug.

Not only were the Panthers advancing to the Division III College World Series, but they were doing so while their school prepared to close its doors permanently.

"CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! YOUR BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN PANTHERS ARE SUPER REGIONAL CHAMPIONS AND ADVANCE TO THE DIII COLLEGE WORLD SERIES!!!!!" The Birmingham-Southern College Athletics department wrote on X after Saturday's win.

Birmingham-Southern College is a private, liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., with more than 1,200 students. In March, the college announced that it would close due to financial difficulties — an issue true for many small private institutions across the country.

The closure meant that most Birmingham-Southern students — except those graduating this semester — would have to find new schools to attend in the fall.

The news came just a few weeks into the college baseball season. The team was heartbroken and fell into a mid-season losing streak. But the student athletes pushed through with the goal "to finish strong," as their coach Jan Weisberg instructed them to do.

"Just go out and honor everyone that came before you,” Weisberg told NPR member station WBHM.

Despite the uncertainty about the future, Panthers players stayed focused on the season. Jacob Fields, a first-year pitcher, even paused conversations with college recruiters in order to concentrate on the baseball season.

“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,” Fields told WBHM.

Senior pitcher Hansen McCown is just savoring the time they still have left to play together as a team.

"Some people might look at this as, like, a sad story. But to us, you know, we embrace it," he said. "We're just excited to play another game of baseball."

The school's financial struggles won't keep the team from their first College World Series game, thanks to funding from the NCAA and donations, especially from alumni. The Alabama school is set to shut down on May 31 — the same day that the Panthers will play in their World Series game in Eastlake, Ohio.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.

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