Swimming Interest on the Rise Among Blacks

The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation recently hosted the 10-and-under Trick or Treat Mini Swim Meet at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Complex in the Brookland section of Northeast Washington and there were several performances that brought hope to the future of Black people in swimming.

Swimming, for  some Black Americans, has long been a sore spot.  But with some of the prospects, the future appears bright for Black athletes in the sport.

Among the outstanding participants was 9-year-old Janelle Johnson, who started swimming at the age of 5.

Her brother Jason, 11, is ranked nationally in his age group, her sister Jasmine, 13, also swims on the club level and their father, Joseph is a meet official.

“My motivation was simple,” said dad Joseph Johnson.  “I didn’t want to have to worry about their safety in the pools when we went on vacation.  From there, it developed into something more.”

They all came under the instruction of Darrell Fogan, one of the top swim instructors in the area.

Fogan is a contractor for DPR who has worked at Howard University and the American Red Cross and has his company, Metro Wellness, that he established in 1994.

A contractor for DPR, Fogan trains and prepares young swimmers before they are allowed to become members of swim clubs.

“There has been an influx of late from Blacks in the sports.  You are finding more and more second generations.  They are gravitating toward the sport for various reasons:  some has to do with health, others with potential scholarship opportunities.”

Fogan is a historian of the sport as it pertains to Black athletes.”As for the history as I know it, it all started back in World War I around 1918,” said Fogan.  “Because of the nature of the war with all the deaths, it was called by land and air.  Then, they added by sea due to the change of tactics used in warfare.  Later Howard University and Ohio State started swim programs in the 1940s.  As time went on, swimming became big in the Black community in the DMV area.  Many of the swimmers attended Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Morgan State and Howard University. Because of the influence, their children followed suit.”

Fogan also noted a late, local leader as key in the thriving of local swim programs.

“Also under the Marion Barry regime, the sport was popular as you had many young people becoming lifeguards through the summer work program,” he said.

 “Then Title 9 forced a change as there were not enough swim programs for women at HBCUs, so they shut down those programs and it ultimately had a strong impact,” Fogan continued.

Despite the shutting down of certain collegiate swim programs, local swimmers are still working hard and showing promise beyond the pool or diving board.

“The Black talent is still holding its ground, 10 and younger,” he said. “Families are using the opportunity to promote physical health and self-confidence through participation. They like the health benefits.”

Fogan emphasized the diverse nature of the sport in the D.C. region.

“But what we are seeing is a shift.  Of the 11-and-unders that I train, 30% are African American.  The remaining 70% are other minorities and it’s not what you think.  There are a number of parents from Indian and Chinese descent who are signing up their kids for training.  It is a new kind of minority that you will see more evident in the next 10 years.”

Currently, Howard University is the only HBCU that has a swim team.  Johnson and Fogan see it as a major benefit for Black students interested in swimming.

“Jason attends the Howard swim camp and he has already told Coach (Nicholas) Askew that if he is still coach when he reaches his senior year, he is going to Howard,” said Johnson, an HBCU alum and graduate of Norfolk State.

“With this surge of interest in swimming among minorities, Howard University is in a great position to take advantage of the opportunity.