Tamela Mann - Overcomer

Howard University Swim and Dive Team Elevates Black Presence in the Sport in Historic Meet Competing Against Georgetown

Diver Cyrus Gibson and the Howard swimming and diving team competed against Georgetown on Saturday. (Michael A. McCoy for The Washington Post)

Among the first indications something special was happening at Howard were D.C. police vehicles, lights flashing, blocking a handful of side streets along a stretch of Georgia Avenue in Northwest where the university’s athletic facilities are located.

Inside Burr Gymnasium, meanwhile, thumping beats reverberated over the sound system as students, parents, alumni and Bison supporters milled about in the corridors while other patrons patiently but eagerly waited in line to have their tickets scanned.

The draw on a soggy and overcast afternoon was a swim meet against crosstown rival Georgetown billed as the Battle at the Burr, where an announced crowd of 2,000-plus packed the seating area above the pool for the sold-out event organizers indicated was the most attended aquatics competition in school history.

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Overflow viewing for the late-arriving set was available through windows lining the hallway on the main concourse and in front of a VIP section dubbed the Splash Lounge that welcomed special guests to the dual-meet season opener conducted in conjunction with Howard’s Hall of Fame weekend.

One of the inductees was Nicholas Askew, the coach of the Bison men’s and women’s swim and dive teams. Not only did Askew hold a number of records at the time of his graduation in 2000, but he also has overseen exponential growth by the only swim and dive program at a historically Black college or university.

“That is really honest to goodness the mission,” said Askew, who over eight seasons has embraced elevating the profile of Black and Brown swimmers and divers in a sport in which traditionally they have been underrepresented. “We don’t just take it as, ‘Okay, we’re a Division I program, and we swim, and we dive, and we go home.’

“We have what I believe is a bigger obligation to the community. When you think about only 2 percent of USA Swimming and only 2 percent of NCAA swimming and diving is African American, that percentage to me, I want to be able to raise that percentage because I think swimming is a global sport.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Gene Wang

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