By Jeff Commings
GREENSBORO, North Carolina, September 23. THE impending end of North Carolina A&T’s women’s swimming program has not been sitting well with Jasmine Gurley.
The 2012 graduate of one of 106 Historically Black Colleges and Universities didn’t like the athletic department’s news last month that swimming was being cut because the team was not an official part of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. If the team is chopped from the school’s sports roster as planned in 2015, the country will lose the only surviving all-black female college swim program, and Gurley was not ready to let that legacy die.
Two days after the athletic department announced its intentions on cutting the team, Gurley started a petition campaign on change.org. Within two days, 834 people had signed it. As of today, 1,442 supporters from across the country have lent their support to the program. The movement to save the team also got support from 2004 Olympian Maritza Correia, Gurley said.
Support for North Carolina A&T is also coming from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s swim team, which recently saved their team from the chopping block. “I am a member of the recently saved UNCW Swim and Dive program,” UNC-Wilmington sophomore Daniel Dozier wrote on the change.org site. “No team deserves to be cut for whatever reason.”
“I want them (the athletic department) to know that we (swimmers) are doing great things,” Gurley told Swimming World. “For us to be able to say that we have the only all-black women’s swimming collegiate team in the country, that is something we should be clutching to for dear life.”
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has been a part of the list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities since its founding in 1891. To be a part of the HBCU list, a school’s “principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans,” according to the Higher Education Act of 1965. Though these public and private schools continue to thrive, the number of those campuses to have fully-funded swimming programs continues to dwindle. Only two of those universities currently have swimming teams, with the other being the Howard University men’s team in Washington, D.C. Florida A&M University had a men’s and women’s team, but they were dismantled in 2011.
“Our swimming program has produced great athletes and outstanding citizens in our society,” said Athletic Director Earl Hilton III last month. “Many of our swimmers have been tremendously successful after graduating from North Carolina A&T. We must, however, move our department to where every athlete has the opportunity to compete for a conference and NCAA title. I don’t see a scenario where the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference will sponsor swimming in the foreseeable future.”
Gurley said she understands the reasons behind cutting the swimming program, but believes the petition, which she has shown to the athletic department administration, could emphasize how necessary the program is on the sports roster.
The MEAC is made of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Because only two teams in the conference have swimming programs, the sport is not sanctioned by the conference, and hence, there is no official conference meet. Gurley said during her time at North Carolina A&T, the three teams that had swimming programs held a tri-meet that served as a season-ending championship meet.
“We had a lot of fun (at the championship meet) and it was great being around other African-American swimmers because we know what it is like being the minority, unlike others at the HBCU schools,” Gurley said. “We shouldn’t be trying to get rid of the team because we don’t have another team to compete against in our conference besides Howard.
Gurley said she has spoken to a high school sophomore with plans to attend North Carolina A&T and earn a swimming scholarship. But if the program is cut, her college choices could change, and also might force her to end her swimming career early, as she has a strong desire to be a part of an all-black female team.
“She won’t be able to fulfill her dream,” Gurley said. “If it’s not us, there’s no (other all-black female team) she can turn to.”
To view the petition to save North Carolina A&T swimming, click here.