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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Hampton University announced Tuesday the addition of women's triathlon, which the NCAA designated as an emerging sport in 2014, as its newest athletic team effective next fall.
HU will become the sixth Division I school, and the first Historically Black College and University, to sponsor women's triathlon. Hampton has been awarded a $225,000 grant from the USA Triathlon Foundation, which was designated for the first HBCU to take on women's triathlon as a varsity sport.
The money will be distributed over five years to help fund travel, equipment, coaching and scholarships.
"This is another way to get the Hampton brand worldwide," HU athletic director Eugene Marshall said. "We are known for a lot of things academically, and some athletically, but this is a way to continue to attract leaders and champions."
Marshall said Hampton will compete as a club team in the fall of 2019 and go varsity in '20. Unlike with men's lacrosse and women's soccer, the two most recent sports to be added, Marshall said HU might be able to grant some scholarships right away thanks to the grant.
The process of hiring a new coach is expected to begin by the end of the year.
"Between USA Triathlon and us," Marshall said, "we can put together a great staff and a great program."
According to USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris, less than 1 percent of athletes who compete in the sport are African Americans. He wants that to change.
"We have a vision to make triathlon the most welcoming and inclusive sport, and right now we're not there," Harris said. "We still have a lot of work to do, but this is one really significant step in that direction."
Being recognized by the NCAA as an emerging sport gave women's triathlon 10 years to demonstrate sustainability. To help, USA Triathlon approved $2.6 million in grants to encourage NCAA schools to add the sport.
The goal is to establish 40 varsity programs by 2024. Hampton makes 26.
Other Division I schools that compete in women's triathlon are Arizona State, East Tennessee State, San Francisco, South Dakota, and Wagner College. There are 11 D-II schools that sponsor the sport, but the nearest to Hampton Roads is Queens University of Charlotte (N.C.).
The season will consist of three regional qualifiers and the Women's Collegiate Triathlon National Championship. It will feature sprint-distance races covering a 750-meter open water swim, draft-legal 20-kilometer bike and a 5-kilometer run.
This isn't the first time Hampton University went against the norm in establishing teams. In 1995, it became the first HBCU to offer sailing as a varsity sport. Twenty years later, Hampton added men's lacrosse, the first HBCU to do so on the Division I level.
Dave Johnson can be reached at 757-247-4649.
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