By: Amerra Sheckles, Campus Reporter
Although I can’t speak for all HBCUs, competing as a Division-I athlete at Howard is a different grind in itself.
I was always told that sports in High School act as more of a hobby; whereas, sports in college are run as a business. In high school, you compete for the love of the game. In college, although you may sustain your love for the game, success requires much more than just showing up to practice. Being a Division-I athlete is a full-time, contract-driven job. To compete at the collegiate level is to jump headfirst into a relationship that seemingly steals all your time and energy. In return, you get countless bruises, permanent callouses, a few muscle gains, a couple muscle strains and (hopefully) an unaffected GPA, all so that you may uphold the legacy of your program, whether it be positive or otherwise.
In addition, as an NCAA athlete competing at the Division-I level, you have access to a plethora of resources—both academically and athletically. You have supportive staff and assistant coaches, adequate treatment facilities, access to proper nutrition and academic tutors and compliance liaisons to facilitate communication with professors, right?
It’s no surprise that Howard is not the most well-endowed school. It’s also no surprise that real estate is not cheap in D.C., so access to the biggest and nicest facilities has always been unlikely. However, it is important to acknowledge that no matter how naturally talented an athlete may be, the resources he or she has access to make all the difference in the world when it comes to athletic performance.
Schools competing at the Division-I level must “field” at least 14 teams. The illustrious Howard University sponsors a total of 17 NCAA sanctioned sports: seven men’s teams and ten women’s teams, featuring well over 300 athletes. To support these 17 sports, the University itself has one competition gymnasium, one turf field, one six-lane track, one competition swimming pool and one varsity weight training room. For these 300+ athletes, the athletic training staff has a total of four full-time trainers. For these 17 programs, there is a total of three full-time weight training coaches.
This is not normal.
For reference’s sake, let’s compare these numbers to Hampton University. Although the locations of the two Universities are not comparable, Hampton, much like Howard, still lacks the generous endowment larger universities and state schools have. Yet, when you look at the athletic facilities available, these two schools don’t appear to be equal. Hampton has an athletic training staff of six athletic trainers and two certified doctors for a total of 16 teams.
Hampton also has an entire stadium designated for softball. In contrast, Howard University’s softball program often uses Banneker Community Center’s baseball field located on Georgia Avenue, across from the Lewis K. Downing, College of Engineering Building’s parking lot.
Where Hampton has facilities designated for their volleyball program, Howard University, on the other hand, our back-to-back volleyball MEAC champions have to split time upstairs and downstairs with both men’s and women’s basketball teams.
So think about it—if our athletes are able to thrive without access to the facilities other schools have, imagine the difference it would make in overall athletic performance.
Student-athletes at Howard University constantly undergo tests of heart, of hustle, of determination and of grit. Historically, Howard has never been a sports-oriented school, but that should be no excuse for complacency. I have been here for four years and I have seen a big change in the past three months with this new sudden push towards athletics. There has been an influx of new staff than I have seen in the preceding three years. This should never have been the case.
Where other schools have the financial support and the means to provide more than what’s necessary, Howard teams have sustained a tradition of often “making-do” with the bare minimum. Howard’s lack of resources becomes even more noticeable when we finally gain access to the small, albeit invaluable, luxuries like protein shakes after weight training or adequate facilities while on the road visiting opponents. We, as athletes, deserve athletic trainers who aren’t understaffed or overwhelmed. We deserve facilities that aren’t underdeveloped and overused. We deserve academic support that is more extensive than a handful of volunteer tutors and an outdated book-bank.
It’s easy to grow tired of feeling like our teams have to work three times as hard just to stay in the same place, and five times as hard to be successful, but our student athletes persist, nonetheless. Despite our lack of resources and the lack of financial support our programs have, you will still catch anywhere from five to ten teams up at the crack of dawn, heading to Burr with the mentality that somehow, someway the mission is possible. The question then becomes will things ever get better?