Howard University is the first HBCU with a figure skating team, thanks to the efforts of two female students who couldn’t let go of their passion for the sport.
According to U.S. Figure Skating, Maya James, a junior psychology major, and Cheyenne Walker, a senior political science and Afro-American Studies major, both started skating around age 7. They didn’t know each other when they arrived at Howard, but they shared one idea: Introducing a figure skating program at the HBCU.
During their winter break in 2022, James read an article about Walker and reached out to her via Instagram to ask if they could collaborate. Walker, eager for the opportunity, developed the team’s constitution, and they collaborated on the schedule and budget.
“When Maya reached out to me, I was so excited because I was speaking to other girls from Figure Skating in Harlem who go to Howard, and we would always speak about how we wish there was skating, but we didn’t know how to go about it,” Walker said. “So, when Maya was like, ‘Yeah, I want to start this,’ I was on board for sure because it’s definitely something that I wanted to see on our campus community.”
Getting the club registered through their university and U.S. Figure Skating took an entire semester. Still, by the summer of 2023, the team was official, becoming the first intercollegiate figure skating team in history at an HBCU.
As an official club, James, the president, and Walker, vice president, used social media and attended the school’s student association fair to recruit skaters, soon attracting many interested students — some familiar with the sport and others wanting to give it a try for the first time.
After months of recruitment and preparation, the squad held its first practice on Oct. 7, with the leaders organizing a 5 a.m. bus ride to a rink in Maryland, more than 30 minutes away from Howard, since the only rink in the Washington area was temporarily closed for construction.
Diversify Ice founder Joel Savary, who described it as a “historic opportunity that fits very closely within their mission,” and board member Joy Thomas, both of whom are D.C. locals, are coaching the team. Diversify Ice also gave counsel and assistance to James and Walker throughout the early phases of the team’s formation.
Looking ahead to the season, individuals new to the sport will have the opportunity to participate in a series of skill workshops, while those with more advanced talents will soon travel and compete at intercollegiate events early next year.
The squad intends to compete for the first time in February 2024 at the University of Delaware.
HBCUs are pioneering institutions that initially paved the way for Black students’ professional careers. In June, Tennessee State University achieved a historic milestone when it became the first HBCU to introduce collegiate-level men’s ice hockey, the Associated Press previously reported.
The inclusion of ice hockey is a testament to the university’s commitment to nurturing diversity, promoting inclusion and broadening the spectrum of athletic possibilities available to its students.
“Being the first of anything is a really big responsibility because you’re trying to set the precedent for everyone else,” said Howard’s figure skating team member Ariel Clarke, U.S. Figure Skating reported. She shared that she and another team member believed they were the only skaters at Howard.
“So, if there is another HBCU that feels like they should create a figure skating team or is inspired by our story,” Clarke added, “I think that would bring a lot of the current skaters on those campuses together to create a powerhouse of HBCU skaters.”
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