Tennessee State University for so long has been best known in athletics as the place where Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph and the Tigerbelles made track history and produced NFL talent like Super Bowl champ Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
Now the university that’s also the alma mater of Oprah Winfrey is taking a big step as the first historically Black college and university to introduce ice hockey.
The school on Wednesday announced plans to have a men’s team playing at the club level in 2024, with a goal of fielding Division I men’s and women’s teams “in the near future.”
“It is our hope that while TSU is the first HBCU to start an ice hockey program, we certainly won’t be the last,” university president Glenda Glover said at a news conference before the NHL draft.
The Tennessee State program has been created in partnership with the National Hockey League, the National Hockey League Players’ Association and the Nashville Predators. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sat in the front row for the news conference at Bridgestone Arena, which is 4 miles from TSU.
Athletic director Mikki Allen said the program will help diversify hockey with a partnership helping embrace inclusivity and diversity. Allen noted TSU has a full complement of other sports including a football program currently coached by former NFL star Eddie George.
Now they will use TSU’s history, Nashville and this partnership to grow hockey from the ground up, and Allen believes the Tigers will be attractive to recruits nationally. The mighty Southeastern Conference has many members who field club hockey teams.
“I want the next P.K. Subban, I want the next Ryan Reaves, the next Willie O’Ree,” Allen said.
Since 2017, the NHL and the players’ union have sponsored feasibility studies for U.S. colleges and universities interested in exploring the addition of Division I men’s and women’s programs.
Sean Henry, president of the Predators, said they were talking about helping raise $1 million in scholarship funds in a month when the subject turned to ice hockey in January 2020. He said the announcement gives him goose bumps thinking of how this could change hockey.
The next step will be the women’s team, then getting to Division I for both teams. The first team will practice at one of the rinks opened and operated by the Predators in recent years around Nashville.