The men’s swimming and diving team at Howard University in Washington, D.C., recently won the Northeast Conference championship meet held in Geneva, Ohio. Howard is the only HBCU that continues to operate a varsity swim team program at the NCAA Division I level.
“It’s the first conference title for our men’s program in 34 years, and it feels amazing,” said Nicholas Askew, coach of Howard’s swimming and diving team. “It just feels phenomenal to know that there’s this group of young men and young women who believed that it was possible, even when we were first getting started and all kinds of things were not going our way.”
According to a joint study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis with the YMCA, a staggering 64 percent of Black children under 18 lack swimming abilities and they drown at three times the rate of White children. According to USA Swimming 1.5 percent of its approximately 295,000 competitive swimmers are Black. Black swimmers account for just 2 percent of swimmers at the collegiate level, according to NCAA data.
Coach Askew rejects the idea that among Black people, the fear of water is somehow genetic or intrinsic. “As a people, we swam well, especially coming from the coast of Africa, where we had to swim for our livelihood,” he notes. “There’s a difference between the myth that Black people don’t swim and the challenges we have. The challenges can be overcome with proper knowledge.”