The Howard University Swim Team is making history as the only all-Black team in college swimming, breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations of Black swimmers.
Howard’s swim meets are now packed with students, university staff, and locals, complete with a performance by the Bisonette dance team and a lively atmosphere.
Coach Nic Askew, has been making waves in the competitive swimming world. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Coach Askew shared his insights on what it takes to build a successful swim team.
He sees the unique energy at Howard’s swim meets as a testament to the program’s success. “Nobody in America can offer what we have in our pool,” he says. “Where else are you going to see this?”
As a former record-setting swimmer and all-conference tennis player at Howard, Askew brings a positive attitude to the team. He encourages his athletes to always look for the next challenge and make the most of every opportunity. Askew also has big plans for the swim program, including making Howard the touchstone for underserved communities across the country. “This is about our mission as a university and the message we want to send as an HBCU,” says Askew. “This isn’t a bunch of Black people in a pool; it’s young Black men and women succeeding in a sport that, for years, has shut them out of this experience.”
As the only remaining swim program at a historically Black college or university (HBCU), Howard is taking its responsibility seriously. Coach Askew and the staff make sure each swimmer understands the history of swimming among Black people and the school requires its undergraduate students to pass a basic swim test. Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick explains, “It’s about going into the wider world, seeing inequities and closing them down.”
Unfortunately, the statistics are grim. USA Swimming estimates that only 1.5% of the country’s 295,078 competitive swimmers are Black, and just 2% in college. This means that every year, many college swim coaches never speak to a single Black swimmer. However, roughly one-third of America’s Black college swimmers are at Howard, making a big impact on the sport. “How many of these kids would have continued swimming in college if it weren’t for Howard?” Askew asks. “How many of them would have felt the same kind of support they have here?”
Howard’s swim program is making a difference and changing the conversation about Black people and swimming. As Miriam Lynch, a former Howard swimmer and the executive director of Diversity in Aquatics, says, “Our team is on the front line of change.”