The Howard University Bison shut down Georgia Avenue as they held an estimated 1,200 spectators for their dual swim meet against their crosstown rival, the Georgetown Hoyas.
The meet billed, “The Battle at the Burr” was hosted by Howard University during their Hall of Fame weekend. This was a sold-out event. 2,000 tickets were sold, making it expected to be the biggest HBCU swim meet of all time.
As a part of the weekend, Howard’s Head Coach Nicolas Askew was given the honor of being an inductee in this year’s Howard University Athletics Hall of Fame class. Coach Askew, however, was not just focused on celebrating what he had done in the past, but building towards a better future for the program.
Askew’s achievements and dedication leave an impression on the current athletes that certainly go a long way in inspiring the athletes to build on the legacy that he established during his time as an athlete at Howard.
Pertaining to the impact of seeing Askew honored for his achievements, freshman Zuzu Nwaze told The Hilltop, “Coach Askew is definitely an inspiration because of his commitment to the swim program as an athlete and a coach. When he was in school, he played tennis and swam at Howard University and it was obviously a lot to participate in two sports; but, he also maintained such a high level of dedication that he still has now. When you look at the way the program has improved since he first started as head coach, it just makes you excited for what is to come.”
During the event, there was a championship banner unveiled highlighting the accomplishments of the 1989 men’s swimming and diving team for their Tri-State Conference Championship title. As spectators looked up at the banner, they could also see the record board hanging high in the venue. It would have been hard for any attendees to miss how many of the records were set in 2022, showing that the program is at its strongest point and breaking new ground.
Current 100-yard fly school record holder Courtney Connolly attributed the recent success of the program to the team’s unified ambitions saying, “I think the reason this program has succeeded is because we all have the same goal of making the team better, whether that be in swimming, diving, or academics. We all want to see this program continue to grow.”
Howard University is the only HBCU with a swimming and diving program, so they are the sole representatives of HBCU swimming. With this responsibility, Nwaze told The Hilltop, “Black swimmers are underrepresented in general and with Howard being the only HBCU with a swim program, it is extra special for us to go toe to toe with Georgetown. It shows that Black swimmers are competitive and hopefully this gets more Black kids interested in swimming and thinking about the possibility of swimming for Howard.”
The HU swimming and diving squad showed their mettle once again on Saturday in their bout against Georgetown where the Bison threw down stellar performances against the reigning Big East Conference Champion Hoyas. Howard nearly drew even with the Hoyas on the men’s side, narrowly falling short of victory with a final score of 113-111 in favor of Georgetown. On the women’s side, Georgetown got the better of the matchup, winning 148-76.
Despite the losses, Howard was able to put some great performances on display and provide exciting races that kept the crowd on edge for the entirety of the meet. This included winning performances from Teyana Johnson (1 meter dive), Zulida Nuwaze (200 yard freestyle), Luke-Kennedy Thompson (200 yard freestyle), Mark-Anthony Beckles (50 yard freestyle, 100 yard freestyle), Miles Simon (200 yard IM), Taj Benton (200 yard butterfly), men’s 200 yard medley relay (Simon, Johnson, Cooper, Miles), women’s 200 yard freestyle relay (Debnam, Fountain, Roberson, Nwaze), and men’s 200 yard freestyle relay (Simon, Solomon, Benton, Beckles).
Beyond what took place in the water, the environment surrounding the action was electric. The fervor of attendees inspired by the hype surrounding the meet, the spectators in the VIP “Splash Zone” which included many of this year’s Howard Athletics Hall of Fame inductees, the multiple DJs in the house that seemingly took it upon themselves to never let the energy drop, and the performance of Howard University’s caribbean dance team, Tropical Riddimz, were a number of factors that made Saturday’s meet an experience that cannot be paralleled by another school in the country.
Not only did the Battle at the Burr prove to be special for spectators, but the athletes themselves were able to notice a different feel. “I can absolutely tell the difference in the environment at the Burr. A typical swim team rarely has people in the stands or music playing. So when we have our meets at Burr, people love to come and show out for us because we make it more than a meet, we make it an experience.” said Courtney Connolly.
The action in the water fed the crowd’s energy as the crowd’s energy fed the action in the water. Senior Miles Simon, who had set a U.S. #2 mark in the 50 freestyle, spoke to The Hilltop about the effects of the Burr crowd saying, “I do a little bit of both (blocking out noise and feeding off of it). Before my races I block the noise out all the way up until I get on the blocks. Then when it’s time to swim I take in the support and cheers from my teammates, family, and friends in the stands.”
Going forward, there is still a lot to be excited about from Howard’s swim and dive team, as it is still early in the season. They are coming off a season in which they were runner-ups at the NEC conference championships, so they are naturally looking to take home the big trophy this season. Simon, who has budded as a star on Howard’s team early in his final season, has high expectations for this year, saying, “As a team I want us to keep the momentum that we have going and show out at our conference championship and nationals. For myself, I am the type of person who takes things day by day. I’m just trying to be better than I was yesterday or even last week.”
In the short term, the Bison will follow up by hosting Mount St. Mary’s on Oct. 8th before a three-week competition layoff that includes Howard’s Homecoming Week.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee