The End of The Road

By: Charlie Moon news services

Drinking my coffee, visiting family in Birmingham, AL, one song seems fit: “….I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name… uh uh huh, ahh ahhhh…”

I’m confident that in 1972, when Dewey Bunnell, of the band America, penned the group’s 1-hit wonder, he had no idea some overweight bald dude was going to tie his lyrics to Birmingham Southern College baseball in 2024.

I first heard of this story a couple weeks ago while heading home from work and thought of that song immediately.

Birmingham Southern College played Salve Regina University (Newport, RI)  (Friday, May 31), on the very last day Birmingham Southern College was known as an active institution of higher learning. That’s right. The Panthers of Birmingham Southern competed for a national title, when the name on their jersey is a thing of the past.

Hence…. “Goin through the desert on a horse”.

Bunnell once said he wrote the song as a metaphor of being free, independent of societal constraints.

One thing is for sure. The Panthers are free. On March 27, head coach Jan Weisberg met with the team in their clubhouse after an 8-5 road win at LaGrange, GA.

Team leader Drake Laroche (son of former Atlanta Brave Adam Laroche) said, “We had no idea what coach wanted to say. It was a big win for us. After a rough stretch, we lost our way. But something clicked that night. The chemistry finally brewed. We thought coach wanted to ignite that flame a little.”

Sadly, no. Coach Weisberg informed the team that Birmingham Southern College, a state-chartered Methodist school since its founding in 1856, was closing its doors.

Laroche says there were a few tears at first, but then they just sat around for about 2 hours, with questions…and answers.

“We didn’t know at first, if we were gonna be able to finish the season. If not, could we enter the transfer portal? Did we have to go home? Were we still gonna get meals on the road?”

Weisberg calmed everyone’s fears.

Laroche said: “Oh, it popped off. We got jacked up….like something out of a movie. We knew there was just one thing left to do – win a natty.”

There have been hundreds of times an NCAA school has finished their season, knowing their program had been shut down as of that season’s completion. Birmingham’s own UAB, after all, shut down its program just before the Blazers played in a 2014 bowl game. Of course, the Blazers wouldn’t go away.

And so have the Panthers. After beating the nation’s #2 Denison University, in the Regionals, they began the Division 3 College World Series.

And they’ll did it in style!

The team began a GoFundMe. Until their wins against Denison, it only had about $10,000. Suddenly, it ballooned to over $200,000.

The team was able to fly a private charter to Eastlake, OH. They’re stayed in a 5-star hotel and had all their meals catered.

Birmingham Southern alumni from all over the world flocked to Eastlake. It turned into a Panther Party at the Division III World Series.

That song we began our coffee cup talk with? It closes with: “After nine days, I Iet the horse run free, cause the desert had turned to sea.” The idea being…everybody can run free now.

Well, one thing is for sure, the Panthers all run free. I imagine one major difference. They won’t be constrained by a single thing.

Birmingham Southern’s run ended in the round of 8 double elimination. The Panthers lost to Wisconsin-Whitewater 11-10 to end their magical run.

“When the game got tight, I wasn’t worried about winning or losing,” he said. “I wanted one more night to be able to hang out with everyone. I think the ride we had the last three weeks is better than winning a national championship.”