HBCU makes history with first swim championship in 34 years

Howard University is home to the only swimming program still in existence at an HBCU. It also has the only all-Black swim team in the nation, including coaches and support staff.

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One historically Black university’s all-Black collegiate swimming and diving team made history with its first championship in 34 years.

It’s been a memorable Black History Month for Howard University as the HBCU won the 2023 title of Northeast Conference Men’s Swimming and Diving Champions on Saturday in Geneva, Ohio. The squad came in second the previous year, according to ABC News.

Despite things seemingly not going in the team’s favor at the start of the meet, Nicholas Askew, the head coach of Howard’s swim squad, expressed the amazing feeling of beating the odds and pushing through.

Howard University men's swim team
The 47-member, all-Black men’s swim team at Howard University has made history in more ways than one, with the squad recently taking home its first championship in 34 years. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/YouTube.com/WUSA9 News)

“It just feels phenomenal,” he said, according to ABC News, “to know that there’s this group of young men and young women who believed that it was possible.”

Olympic Trials qualifier Miles Simon broke the meet record in the 200-meter individual medley and was named the NEC Outstanding Swimmer, while Jordan Walker was named Outstanding Diver for the 47-member squad.

The swimming staff was recognized as the NEC Swimming Staff of the Year for the second consecutive season. Courtenay Miller, a diving coach, also received the conference’s Outstanding Dive Staff honor.

Earning its first championship in over three decades isn’t the only accomplishment Howard’s swim and dive team is celebrating. The squad recently achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first all-Black swim team featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The historically Black institution is home to the only swimming program still in existence at an HBCU. It also has the only all-Black swim team in the nation, including coaches and support staff.

But being the only HBCU and all-black swim team “comes with a warning tag,” said Askew, according to ABC News. “We don’t want to be a program that’s cut because, even as a competitive program, NCAA swimming is the number one to cut sports and in all of athletics.”

Approximately 1.5% of the 295,000 competitive swimmers in 2021 are Black, estimates the USA Swimming Foundation. NCAA statistics show that only 2% of Black swimmers compete at the collegiate level.

Nearly 64% of African American children have little to no swimming capability, per a 2017 study by the USA Swimming Foundation, which found a lack of swimming instruction.

Askew, a Howard graduate and former university swimmer who has been coaching since 2014, believes stronger legislation is needed to bridge demographic disparities in the swimming realm and increase water safety access and resources, particularly among minorities and inner-city children.

The coach acknowledged that the team’s historic moment was significant but stressed the importance of overall support for HBCU sports programs to ensure their longevity.

“We have to be very careful as to the support financially being in the stands,” said Askew, ABC News reported, “[and] being able to send words of encouragement” to the student-athletes and to the administration.

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