WASHINGTON (DC News Now) – The Howard Bison Men’s swim and diving team made history when they took home the NEC title on Saturday. It had been 34 years since the program won a conference title, and they did so in dominating fashion. The Bison scored a team total of 928 points to win by a margin of 169 points.
For program director Nicholas Askew, the moment they announced that the Howard Bison had won will not be one he will forget anytime soon.
“I felt such a rush of just adrenaline. I could have jumped in the pool and swam. Overwhelming, just filling cup running over type of moment for us and for the program. I will cherish this memory for the rest of my life.”
“It’s been something we’ve been preparing for all year, we’ve all been talking about it,” says a senior on the men’s team, Joel Wilkinson. “We’ve all been excited about this since last year, because last year we came second, and since then we’ve been gunning for it. So when we went off day one, guns blazing, I was just very ecstatic.”
Howard University’s men’s team might have taken home the conference title, but it was a whole team effort from both the men and the women. The Bison say that their swimming and diving program is one big family.
“Honestly, we couldn’t do without them,” says Wilkinson. “We practice with them, we do everything with them. They’re always they’re just pushing us to be better, and it just felt like a win for all of us.”
The women’s team ended up finishing in fourth place at the NEC swim meet. However, they were seen right beside the men cheering them when they lifted the trophy up high.
Senior Courtney Connolly says that their accomplishment is not just for the men, but for the entire program.
“We see how hard they worked all year long, and to see it come full circle, and for them to win conference, it was just a great accomplishment for not just them, but for us as well. Because we see the progress we see like it’s a stepping stone for not just our team but for all African Americans out there that are in the sport of swimming.”
Howard University recently made waves as the only all-black collegiate swimming and diving team in the country. Now with a conference title under their belts, Wilkinson says that the Bison are receiving even more attention and impacting their community in a positive way.
“I would go into buildings and people who we didn’t even know knew about the swim team would come and be like, ‘Oh, aren’t you with Howard dive and swim, oh congratulations!’ I think it’s very important for all of us to remember where we are coming from and how far we’ve come. So to be here now, it’s amazing.”
The conference swim meet took place in Ohio, and while they were there, some members of the Bison were recognized. Connolly and other members of the women’s team walked into a Starbucks, in Ohio and a woman recognized them from TV. The woman went up to the Bison and asked if they could speak with her daughters on FaceTime, who were young athletes and inspired by the Bison’s story.
“It was really cute. They were kind of fangirling over us, and it kind of like just got us a little more excited in a way. Because we see like, not just these like people like here (in D.C.) like people across the country are cheering for us.”
For the Bison, representing the black community in a sport like swimming is important to them. Coach Askew says that there is a deeper problem that goes beyond the lack of representation in a sport.
“To be able to be out in front to be that representation to shine the way that we do. I mean, I’ve received so many emails, text messages, DMS, all kinds of things, and kudos from families saying ‘thank you, you know, now I’m going to get my young one involved in swimming’ and not just from a competitive standpoint, but more importantly as a water safety skill, learning how to swim.”
With the success the Bison have had, the university has seen an increase in students wanting to try swimming. With the swimming and diving season wrapping up, the Bison will offer free classes for students and faculty to learn how to swim.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the open pool hours, the recreational hours of people coming in. And it’s really cool because a lot of our swim team members will stay behind and actually help those people that are coming in to swim, whether it be learning how to swim, or even just increasing their skills in the pool.”
The road does not end here for the Bison, members of the Howard swim and diving team who qualified will now prepare for Nationals, which take place in Indiana on March 8th.