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Howard’s Figure Skating Team Part of Olympic Sport Growth at HBCUs

  • The school’s skaters became the first HBCU students to compete in figure skating.
  • Olympic sports at HBCUs are growing, with gymnastics and hockey gaining momentum.
Howard University
Joel Savary

Over the weekend, Howard students became the first from a historically black college and university (HBCU) to compete in figure skating.

Team founders Maya James, Cheyenne Walker, and their teammates have contended about a lack of practice space, with the only ice area in Washington, D.C., under renovation. They get a private hour at a public outdoor facility and travel to the arena in College Park, Md.

“We didn’t really have that opportunity to get consistent ice time until this semester, and it’s only [been] one month,” Walker told NPR.

The team, a club not officially affiliated with the university’s athletic department, debuted in an intercollegiate competition at the University of Delaware, the alma mater of one of their coaches, Joel Savary, who also runs a nonprofit called Diversify Ice. James finished fifth of 11 skaters in the Juvenile Women Short Program, per Essence and the team’s Instagram account. The team also holds training sessions to teach other students how to skate.

“By embracing more diversity, we would be embracing more artistic styles and even music, such as performances to Beyoncé instead of traditional pieces like Swan Lake, the sport becomes more accessible and relevant to a broader audience. This cultural infusion not only enhances the spectator experience but also attracts new participants, ultimately contributing to the sport’s popularity and longevity,” Savary tells Front Office Sports over email. “By providing sponsorship, mentorship, networks, and opportunities for minorities in skating, Diversify Ice is actively working to dismantle systemic barriers and create a more inclusive and equitable sport.”

Howard’s figure skaters are one of several examples at HBCUs where starting or bringing back Olympic sports is gaining momentum.

Last year, Fisk University became the first HBCU gymnastics program to compete in an NCAA event, a journey that merited plans for a docuseries.

Tennessee State University will boast the first HBCU hockey team next winter, with plans to start a men’s team at the club level but eventually compete at the Division I level with both men’s and women’s programs.

Howard is also the only HBCU with a swim and dive team after dozens of programs shuttered over the years. The Bison graced the cover of Sports Illustrated last February, the first all-Black swim team to do so. Many schools are reportedly planning on establishing or bringing back their programs.

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