From USASwimming.org, By: Mike Gustafson:
A few months ago, while I stood on a hot, muggy pool deck at a Diversity Camp in Flushing, New York, I discussed with someone the number of recognizable, prominent African-American swimmers in the United States. The person asked me, “Name as many black swimmers as you can, in ten seconds. Ready, go.” Cullen Jones. Giles Smith. Lea Neal. Maritza Correia. Jeff Commings. Anthony Ervin.
Not enough names, obviously.
Jones is, by far, the most famous advocate for his various diversity outreach and learn-to-swim programs. Namely, his involvement with USA Swimming’s “Make A Splash” initiative. He has been a wonderful proponent to get kids of all races into the water. To experience the joy of competitive swimming. And mostly, to just learn to be water-safe.
Then the conversation turned. The person asked me another question, a more difficult question. “Okay. Now think,” she said. “How many current Hispanic or Latino swimmers can you name?”
I thought. I sorted through names inside my head. I thought about the National Team. The Olympics. Anyone.
“My mind is blank,” I said, disappointed.
A few days ago, October 15th marked the end of National Hispanic Heritage Month. As various organizations honored Hispanic and Latino members of society, increased awareness of prominent figures of Hispanic or Latino origin, I remembered my conversation I had months ago, standing on that pool deck in Flushing, realizing that our sport of competitive swimming has a very serious problem.
Consider these statistics:
Those of Hispanics and Latino origin currently make up over 16% of the entire United States population. Nearly 51 million people. According to a now-infamous survey by the University of Memphis in conjunction with USA Swimming, nearly 58% of Hispanic/Latino children have little or no swimming ability. Which means there are millions of Hispanic and Latino children in the United States who can’t swim. But what’s worse is that they have virtually no outspoken swimming role model in the United States, advocating competitive swimming and water safety, being a role model, someone they can connect with.
There has been wonderful press, lately, with the looming Olympic year, about Cullen Jones. Deservedly so. Jones has been featured – just in the last few weeks -- in both Sports Illustrated and Newsweek. He’s traveled to many locations to advocate water safety for all kids, but especially where there is a large Hispanic and Latino population –San Antonio and Albuquerque were two of the six cities “Make A Splash” visited in 2011.
But it’s no secret that the Latino and Hispanic populations are hugely underrepresented in the world of elite competitive swimming. Jones is doing a great, fantastic, phenomenal job, but he needs help connecting to the Latino and Hispanic communities. If you don’t believe me, try to name as many Latino or Hispanic swimmers on the U.S. National Team. Or on previous Olympic swimming rosters.
This past weekend, one group sought to increase participation among Hispanics, as a celebratory ending to National Hispanic Heritage Month. Fairview Aquatics Swim Team (F.A.S.T.) hosted the “Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet” this past weekend. According to its website, it was the “first ever” Hispanic Heritage swim meet sanctioned by USA Swimming. It received very little press coverage. It got very little attention in the national news.
But meets like this are exactly the type of swim meets that will increase participation among diverse kids.
This past year, there have been quite a few diversity-centric swim meets throughout the United States. Take, for instance, the Sprint Soul Classic, hosted at the I.U.P.U.I. pool in Indianapolis. Or the National Black Heritage Swim Meet, hosted in North Carolina. Both diversity-centric swim meets increased participation in our sport by advocating water safety, bringing in Olympic guest speakers, and, of course, fun. These swim meets are a festival, a celebration, a gathering, a community effort. Part of the itineraries at these meets are community breakfasts. Coaches’ dinners. Swim clinics with Olympians.
And they make a difference. Meets like the Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet make a difference.
Today, I’m disappointed that, in my earlier conversation in Flushing, I couldn’t name more swimmer names. I still can’t. None come immediately to mind. I am sure there are some. I am sure there are quite a few. But, really, that’s not the point. Because, according to the U.S. demographics, almost 1/5th of our entire U.S. National Team should be of Hispanic or Latino origin.
We must look at the harder, brutal truths. We must ask questions. We must realize there are problems. We must come up with solutions. Swim meets like the Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet are one such solution.
Hopefully, there are many, many more.