Black History Invitational Swim Meet

Charles E. Sutton | 3/1/2012, 3:11 p.m.

Growing Diversity in Swimming

More than 800 swimmers, representing more than 31 teams, came together from around the nation to participate in the 26th Annual Black History Invitational Swim Meet (BHISM), Feb. 17-19, at the Takoma Aquatic Center in the District. The massive 22-lane, 50-meter facility showcased the growing talent and diversity in the sport of swimming.

The swimmers represented various ethnic backgrounds and ranged in age from 6-17. Jesus Aguirre, director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, said there were many benefits to Black History Month inspired events.

"This event is one component of an overall effort to expose people to water safety," Aguirre said. "If they choose to swim competitively, it's an added bonus."

This special event was co-founded in 1986, by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the United Black Fund Inc. (UBF). At that time, UBF Founder and President Dr. Calvin W. Rolark and former DPR Director Dr. William H. Rumsey saw an opportunity to expand the academic and athletic horizons of young African-Americans through swimming, and understanding water safety.

These two organizations worked in harmony to develop the first swim meet in the United States to honor Black History Month.

When the Black History Invitational Swim Meet began in 1986, at a small pool in the heart of Washington, D.C., its mission was to provide urban youth nationwide with a positive outlet for expression, exposure to strong competition, an opportunity to visit the nation's capital, and a forum to meet positive role models. Since the event's inception, DPR and UBF are proud to claim that the swim meet has fulfilled its mission.

Now, 25 years later, that small meet that hosted approximately 30 swimmers from D.C. and Baltimore, Md., has blossomed into the premier minority swim meet in the nation, and the world. The BHISM showcases some of the best African-American swimming talent in the country and all of the meet sponsors are continuing to work together to retain its status as the No.1 meet for African-Americans in the sport of swimming.

Every year, as has been the case with past BHISM, members of the African-American community who have contributed to black history, the civil rights movement or the sport of swimming are honored. Past honorees include Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones. This year, the 26th honoree is Rodger McCoy.

"Coach," as he is affectionately called, McCoy has been the senior coach for the DPR's Competitive Aquatics Program since the early 1980s. For over 20 years, he has trained, coached and mentored more than 50,000 students ranging from age 3 to 103. McCoy served on the coaching staff of Potomac Valley (PV) Swimming Distance and Racing Camps; as a staff member on the PV Zone Team; and for over 10 years he served as head coach for the U.S. Swimming National Age Group and Select Camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

McCoy began his swimming career in his late 20s. He grew up in Virginia Beach, Va. As a youngster, the pools and beaches were segregated and Blacks, at that time, did not even have a facility where they could learn to swim. As a youth, he never trained, competed, or even had an interest in the sport. When asked why he didn't start his swimming career earlier, McCoy said, "As a youth in Virginia Beach, I was simply the wrong color." In fact, he didn't learn to swim until the day he walked into the William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, located on Capitol Hill, and formerly known as the Capital East Natatorium.

Even though the swim meet honors Black History Month, most spectators felt honored by witnessing hundreds of young people from all across the nation, many of them African-American, come together to participate in such a healthy, wholesome, clean competition. Being a part of the weekend's activities can leave one feeling inspired, motivated and positively challenged. This event brings to the forefront, the fact that young African-Americans from all parts of this country are doing positive things. So, the next time we're looking for a feel-good story in the African-American community, we need not look any further than the Black History Invitational Swim Meet.

The results from this year's swim meet have been posted at dpr.dc.gov.