Howard prepares to stage biggest HBCU swim meet in history against Georgetown
The largest swimming event in HBCU history will take place at Howard University on October 1.
A day after Howard’s ninth year as head coach Nicolas Askew will be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 30, the Bison will host Crosstown rival Georgetown for their first double meet of the season.
Dubbed the “Battle at The Burr,” the Saturday afternoon event will feature live DJs, dance troupes, Howard’s Marching Band, food vendors, and extra seating in the splash zone and the basketball gymnasium, where fans will be able to see a broadcast with special-guest commentary from someone Askew teased as “easily recognizable by his Olympic medal hardware.” Various performances will take place during the usual breaks from the action.
Typically, the Bisons draw around 500 fans for meetups at Burr Gym Pool, but they’re expecting more than 2,000 in attendance for next month’s battle at The Burr. Not only will they get a boost from alumni and fans who will already be in town for the Athletics Hall of Fame festivities, but Howard’s swim team is also the only show on campus this weekend. -end.
“This will be the largest and most attended HBCU event in history for swimming and diving,” said Askew, a 2000 Howard graduate and a member of the Bison swimming and tennis teams. “It will arguably be one of the busiest events in swimming and diving for a regular season event. We know that some other institutions have bigger seating capacities and have pretty big rivalries, but we’re going to be up there in that upper echelon of attendance.
“The big effort is fundraising,” he added. “Swimming is the No. 1 cup program in the entire NCAA. We want to make sure we’re doing our part to create such a fanfare that people will feel good about supporting the program financially so we can take some of the burden off the athletic department.
In 2016, Howard became the last remaining HBCU school with a swimming program after the North Carolina A&T team disbanded.
“Our environment is unlike any other university environment on the planet,” Askew said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the electricity that’s in this environment and how special it is considering we’re the only HBCU and the numbers don’t favor the culture. So many black or brown people can’t swim or have limited swimming ability. To be able to pack the stands – to have them there all the time for a loudly cheering swim meet and engaged in the fan experience – you won’t find anywhere else like it.
When Georgetown visited Howard last October, the atmosphere of the encounter left a strong impression on Hoyas supporters. Some parents called it a favorite crowd experience. Georgetown’s men’s and women’s teams escaped with wins, but the men’s team was decided by the final two events in a thrilling finish.
Then the Georgetown head coach Jack Leavitt insisted that all future matches be held at the Burr Gym Pool instead of changing venues every year.
“We’re trying to create a really fan-friendly environment for a doubleheader,” said Leavitt, whose men’s team won their first Big East title last season. “We want it to be appealing to a swimming parent, but also fair to an average fan who may not have watched college swimming before. We are delighted to be asked to be a part of this with them. Since Howard is the only HBCU with a swim program, we try to highlight them as much as possible and bring as much attention to the sport to try and get more HBCUs to add a swim program.
“Nic has built his program to a really competitive level,” added Leavitt. “I’m really proud of the job he’s done and I’m really honored to be the team he chose to swim against in this environment. I’m excited to see who will show up and get more eyes on DC’s swimming.
Among the big names confirmed so far are the president of USA Diving Lee Michaudgeneral manager of swimming in the United States Joel Shinofieldolympic bronze medalist Elizabeth Beiseland Olympic silver medalist Maritza McClendon. McClendon, the first black female swimmer on Team USA, will serve as Howard’s honorary assistant coach for the meet.
“It’s a great time to introduce the program, what we’ve done, and start to really get the excitement going for what we hope to be able to do in the future,” Askew said.
Howard and Georgetown will open their seasons Sept. 23 at the Howard-hosted Potomac Relays, which will also feature George Mason in a Washington, DC schools showdown.
Howard Fellow Swimmer Camille Chatoor will join Askew in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame on September 30.
Tickets for the event are available at www.howwarduniversitytickets.com.