“I never knew an HBCU had a swim team. One of the main things was being recruited [for the sport],” she says. “I needed the [scholarship] money.” — Aggies Co-Captain Aarica Carrington
A few weeks ago, North Carolina’s A&T swim team– the only all-black women’s swim team in the country — disbanded. Photos of the team circulated with headlines like “black girls do swim,” featuring the very athletic women posing poolside in their one pieces, showing of their athletic physiques. Some blame the loss on the fact that the team placed 17th-place at the All-NC Invitational, a position that was not good enough to garner continued support from the university and others blamed the fact that other HBCUs don’t support the sport due to a lack of interest and budget cuts — so outside competition just isn’t there. While these factors may, indeed, play a role, as a 26-year-old black woman who was an athlete for most of her school career, I think black girls and women are set to fail in their athletic pursuits because of rampant inequality.
The team has served as a myth-buster, they say, shattering falsehoods that African-Americans can’t swim and that African-American women, in particular, want nothing to do with aquatics because the water would mess up their hair. — William Douglass @ The Observer
It is undeniable that I was an extremely athletically gifted child from an early age. I out-ran many of my male peers and was not afraid to get aggressive on any court or field, so it was unsurprising when I decided to play multiple sports starting from elementary school, all throughout high school. However, the financial or emotional support that was necessary to get me to college as an athlete was not there, and I was forced to face the reality of the reason for that absence: I was a poor black girl.
The first time I was ever introduced to an extra circular team sport, I was in front of a white girlfriend’s house kicking around her soccer ball.
“Wow, you are really good, you should play on my team!” she said after watching me pass the ball with adept accuracy.
I excitedly accepted the invitation and the girl’s mother offered to speak with my mother about registration.
“I don’t know if I can afford this,” my mother said after I got home. She was a single parent of three children who just put herself through nursing school and barely had enough money to get by.
“That’s ok, mom,” I responded, obviously dejected and disappointed.
My mother hated to disappoint me, so somehow she managed to find the funds to allow me to participate. Then came the other problem: how would I get to and from practice that was about 30 minutes away? At the time, my mother was working three jobs and no one else in my household had a car or a license. Luckily, it was arranged that I would get a ride with my friend’s family, whenever my mother was unavailable.
Within a few months of starting the sport, I was the team’s star goalie. I grew more confident in my ability with each game and would always look to my mother with a beaming smile every time I stopped the other team from scoring a goal. I was elated.
Then, the finances got very tight and my mom just couldn’t afford it anymore.
Within a few years, I eagerly showed up to the tryouts for my high school’s soccer team. At least it was free. In one of the richest neighborhoods in Florida, the soccer tryouts brought out dozens of athletes– mostly white– many of them who had the finances to train with a private coach or attend camps all throughout their childhood and adolescents. I was competing against girls who were far better prepared than I would ever be. Better trained. Better supported. And of course, they had the resources to provide them with far better equipment.
Yet, I still competed. I may not had been the best, but I worked hard and the coaches took note of that fact. I made the JV team my freshman year and was looking forward to working my way up to varsity. Our JV team performed very well at most games, especially when we went to compete against poorer, minority schools.
“They can’t even afford jerseys,” one of my team mates, a blonde girl with her hair in a ponytail with bows to match our Adidas black and white uniforms pointed out. We all giggled in unison. Though I felt a bit distraught laughing at the girls who most look like me and came from similar circumstances, I hid my guilt and plastered on a smile.
Sadly, my inclusion in that space came to a head after my neighborhood was re-zoned, which meant I would be attending one of those mostly minority schools. The following year, I was on the other side, being laughed at because my team could not afford proper uniforms and did not have the coaching we needed to aid our success.
“I don’t want to play soccer anymore,” I explained to my mom one day, after my team lost 10-0 at one of the richest and whitest schools in the county.
“But why baby?” she asked, “You love soccer.”
Just like these young women of North Carolina’s A&T swim team love to swim, I most certainly loved to play soccer. But sadly, the passions and interests of black girls often falls to the wayside because of blatant inequality that puts any access to resources to pursue them out of reach for far too many of us. With the right kind of support, so many young black girls could go on to be star athletes, even Olympians, who represent America internationally like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas who will be competing in this year’s Brazil Summer Olympics.