Saturday, February 20, 2016

Swimming is getting more diverse, but Howard University will be only black college with a team

There were just 76 black male swimmers in Division I last season and 87 black
 women according to self-reported NCAA demographic data, meaning blacks
made up less than 2 percent of Division I swimmers.
Courtesy: Howard University Bison Athletics

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Summer Lewis wanted at least two things out of college: She wanted to go to a historically black school, and she wanted to continue her swimming career. Those two qualifications left her with exactly one option: Howard.

North Carolina A&T’s swimming program will disband after this weekend’s Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association championships. The school’s regular conference, the MEAC, does not offer swimming championships, so A&T announ
ced in 2013 that it would replace its women’s swimming team with golf, men’s tennis and women’s soccer programs. The formal end arrives this weekend, leaving Howard’s men’s and women’s teams as the only HBCU representatives in collegiate swimming.

Howard’s program, founded in 1923, has churned out youth coaches and offered collegiate swimming opportunities for hundreds of minorities in an overwhelmingly white sport. But the loss of the school’s only remaining HBCU rival means the Bison stand alone, with perhaps an additional responsibility.

“From the surface level, people say I should be happy: now your rival is no longer. But would Carolina be happy if Duke shut their basketball program down?” asked Nic Askew, a former Howard swimmer in his second season as the program’s head coach. “It validates that we have to continue to fight for it, we have to continue to push for our program to be in existence, so we can be an example. At the end of the day, at Howard we want to be an example of why you should have a program — because we have success stories. We are a case study for how it can work.”

This is an odd moment for blacks in swimming. At the highest levels, things have never been better. Cullen Jones is a four-time Olympic medalist. Black swimmers swept the podium in the women’s 100-yard freestyle at last year’s NCAA championships. And 14 months ago, Jamaican Alia Atkinson became the first black woman to win a world title.


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