In my neighborhood there were three sports kids had to choose from: basketball for the girls or boys, football for the boys, or running in the streets meaning you played the most dangerous sport of all. My mom decided from the beginning that none of these sports were an option. At a young age, my sisters and I were enrolled in Mommy and Me swim classes and then swim lessons as we grew older. By the age of 10, I had reached the highest swim lesson level. Naturally, the next step was a swim team. The Baltimore City Swim Club was the first time I had seen more than a few black kids like myself who enjoyed swimming. In my years on the swim team I saw the constant cycle of kids moving from level to level in the club, mastering swimming and winning events and then going off to college to swim. When I chose to swim at North Carolina A&T State University during my senior year of high school, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I had visited the school and the swim team and there was something about the atmosphere that reminded me of the comfort I felt in my home club team, so I knew it would be a great fit.
My first year on the swim team was amazing. Being surrounded by other minority women who loved swimming just as much as I made the team camaraderie and the overall experience that much better. I was used to traveling to swim meets and my team members and I being the only African Americans in the room. What I was not used to was a Caucasian coach. Though her coaching style and techniques were great, a part of me questioned if there was a part of her that could never relate to us. She would never know how it felt to be at a swim meet and be stared at because others are shocked to learn that some black people can actually swim.
It was a cold day sophomore year when the team and I were told that the swim program at A&T would be discontinued after 2016. There was silence, tears and then anger from almost everyone. We were ready to fight for our team, not just for ourselves, but for the little girls who grew up like us looking forward to swimming on a swim team. We started petitions and discussions with the Chancellor, but our efforts were not enough to save the program. We had two years left, and at that moment all we could do was try and make the best of our short remaining time. From then on we began calling ourselves “The Last of a Dying Breed.” The 2016 graduates would be the last class to complete four years on the swim team and our time as college athletes was coming to an end; just as the only all female HBCU swim team was going extinct.
People became interested in our cause about halfway through the last season and even a few articles were written about us; sometimes articles we never knew existed and stumbled upon simply when scrolling through Facebook. Even one of our opponents, the University of North Carolina at Asheville team, made us a large sign that said “Once A&T Swim Team, Always A&T Swim Team.” We took that sign with us to our last swim meet, Costal Collegiate Swim Association (CCSA) Championship Swim Conference. On the last day of the CCSA Conference, our team received a standing ovation. People knew and respected the odds we faced, the history we had made as minorities, and that it was all sadly coming to an end.
As we got back onto the bus after that last race, the entire team was silent. We had gone down fighting and there was so much to say, but our mouths were glued shut by the feeling of defeat. Nonetheless, the NC A&T swim team was not just a blimp in the sea of white swim teams, we had made a permanent mark on the sport and will remain role models for others to come. If I had known four years ago that the swim team I would come to dedicate my collegiate years to would one day cease to exist, I still would have chosen to be a member of the A&T swim team. It wasn’t about the records broken, the medals we received, or the meets we won, it was about being part of a legacy and inspiring a change in the future of the swim world.
Watch: Members of the North Carolina A&T swim team shared their swim journeys with HBCU Gameday.
About the Author: Miranda Jacobs is a recent grad from North Carolina A&T State University. She is also a former swim team member of the North Carolina A&T Women’s swimming team. Miranda works at an insurance company as a Claims Analyst. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, hiking and bike riding. Her ultimate goal is to write an autobiography about her life, inspiring those who grew up in a neighborhood like her.
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