“Nobody In America Can Offer What We Can Offer” | Howard Is Changing the Narrative As the Only All-Black College Swim Team

Howard becomes a trailblazer in a sport that has barely had any Black representation. They are the only NCAA collegiate program to have an all-Black swim team. Howard’s head coach Nic Askew is a graduate of the university and a former member of the swim team. The 44-year-old has created an environment in college swimming that is unmatched with the energy and atmosphere at “The Mecca.”

Howard Has Only HBCU Swim Team

“Nobody in America can offer what we have in our pool,” Askew says to a local reporter at a meet in 2022. “Where else are you going to see this?”

The Howard home swim meets aren’t like those at any other school in the country. When you walk into the Burr Gymnasium pool there is hip-hop music blasting by a in-house DJ, a splash-VIP lounge section with glassed screens showing a livestream of the meet featuring professional play-by-play, color announcers, and the dance team on the sidelines.

There were only three programs at HBCUs at the time Askew took over at Howard. Now there is one. Howard’s program costs $100,000 a year to run, and Askew is constantly fundraising year-round to keep his program running.

Last season, the 400-freestyle relay team celebrated a school-record time of 2:59.46. Miles Simon swam the fastest leg of the relay with a time of 44.66. It also was the third-fastest time in school history. Simon became the second swimmer in program history to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Simon holds the school-record time in the 50 free and one of the fastest times in the country at 19.72 that was set last season along with all his other marks. He is school record holder of half of the 22 swimming events listed on the plastic wall in Burr Gymnasium.

“This is a predominantly white sport, so us swimming and competing and doing our best and showing younger Black kids that there’s another sport to do; you don’t have to play basketball, you don’t have to play football,” Simon said to the Washington Post in 2022. “Younger Black swimmers seeing swimmers like us will give them reassurance that they can do what we can do.”

Who Is Nick Askew?

Askew has been leading the program for eight years. He has recruited players from Canada, the Caribbean, and all over the country. He is not afraid to go find talent from anywhere, and that has helped him build a team now on the cusp of winning the Northeast Conference title, which would be its first banner in more than 30 years.

Howard was named the Northeast Conference swim coaching staff of the year last February. Askew won the National Collegiate Scholastic Trophy, a major honor in swimming circles. The award is given by peers to the coach who has provided “the greatest contribution to swimming as a competitive sport.”

Recent History of Black Swimmers

Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds swept the podium to become the first African-Americans to finish top-three in single events for the women’s 100 yard freestyle at the NCAA Division I Championships.

Manuel set an NCAA, American, U.S. Open, championship and pool record when she clocked a time of 46.09 in the event as a freshman at Stanford. Manuel continued her greatness in 2016 when she made Olympic history while tying Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to become the first Black woman to win the gold medal in the women’s 100m freestyle at Rio de Janeiro Games.

Neal, her Stanford teammate at the time, came in second place with a time of 47.13. She also won a bronze medal in 2012 London Olympic Games in the 4×100 relay and silver medal along with Manuel in the 4×100 relay in 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Hinds reset her own school record at Florida with a time of 47.24 and took home the bronze medal.

Breaking Down Barriers and Stereotypes

Swimming is a sport that has been widely viewed as a white, country club sport. Howard’s swim team has changed that viewpoint with the strides they have been making over the past few years. They are still quite a way from being a NCAA powerhouse such as Stanford and Texas, but they are heading in the right direction. The Bison have been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the Washington Post has covered several of their swim meets.

“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,” said Askew to the Washington Post in October 2022.


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