Swimming and the African American Community

Dan Steinberg:

North Carolina A&T’s swimming program will disband after this weekend’s Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association championships. The school’s regular conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, does not offer swimming championships, so A&T announced 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 (historically black colleges and universities) 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….

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 becamethe first black woman to win a world title.

The number of black collegiate swimmers, though, remains minuscule. Last season, there were just 76 black male swimmers in Division I and 87 black women, according to self-reported NCAA demographic data, meaning blacks made up less than 2 percent of Division I swimmers. About 20 percent of the Division I black swimmers represented either North Carolina A&T or Howard. The loss of one of those programs, then, is a small earthquake for boosters of minority swimming….

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