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Howard University and UCB Breaks Barriers, lead the charge for diversity on the ice 

By way of lessening financial disparities and increasing Black representation in figure skating, United Capital Blades (UCB) and the Howard University figure skating team continue their efforts to promote diversity on the ice.

United Capital Blades Speedskaters from the 2022 Season (Photo courtesy of Elgin Smith) 

In the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, as the winter sports season begins, the United Capital Blades Speedskating Club and the Howard University figure skating team aim to make strides in diversity and inclusion in sports on the ice. 

While the United Capital Blades (UCB) are celebrating their tenth anniversary, the Howard University speed skating team is setting trends by launching the first HBCU figure skating team. 

UCB was founded in 2013 under Coach Hyun-Jung Lee, a former short track speed skater for the Korean national team. The original members of the team were formerly a part of the Potomac Speedskating Club but were looking to have a fresh start with a new coach. Thomas Mostowy is one of the founders and now acts as the assistant coach.

Mostowy, originally from New England, has the job of teaching beginner skaters how to be comfortable on the ice noting his childhood experiences as the core of his methods.

“I try to observe the new skaters to figure out where they are and what I need to do to develop them,” Mostowy said. The United Capital Blades’ individualized approach for the skaters makes it less intimidating for skaters of any background to join the team and excel. 

UCB since its founding has been excited to represent an opportunity for more minority and lower-income skaters to become aware of the sport of speed skating. Mostowy credits the club’s different approach to why they can impact a niche group of skaters. 

“We don’t approach the speed skating club as if it were a professional organization. Some clubs run five to six practices a week throughout the entire year which can get costly, but we have fewer practices because we’ve always encouraged our skaters to do other things,” Mostowy said. UCB has since established a culture of inclusivity and excellence around its organization and has shifted its focus to new goals for its anniversary. 

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Elgin Smith, the current president of UCB, noted how proud he was of the organization but has set a few new benchmarks to reach soon. The benchmarks include having an official preseason gathering, creating a how-to speed skate program, having eight to ten new skaters, and establishing staple UCB events. 

Smith proudly boasts that as they reach these benchmarks, diversity is also something they can achieve. “The United Capital Blades club consists of the highest percentage of Black speed skaters and staff in the country,” Smith said. 

The team has maintained this number by negating deterrents to minorities like costly fees and spreading awareness, a practice that helps skaters who come from lower-income backgrounds have a better chance at seeing speed skating as a feasible sports option.  

“If people can’t pay the speed skating money up front, we never turn them away. We always try to figure out some sort of payment plan so they can still participate,” Smith said. 

As UCB aims to meet its goals for its tenth anniversary, the Howard University figure skating team is reaching for the stars as they make history.

Howard University Ice Skating Team (Photo courtesy of @hu_iceskating on Instagram) 

Co-founders Maya James and Cheyenne Walker, although not affiliated with Howard Athletics, were able to establish the first-ever HBCU figure skating team. 

Senior Arielle Clarke, another member who has been skating since she was young, is excited about how the team aligns with her goals and the university’s values. 

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“As a community development major, we speak a lot about disparities among the black community, and a common one is financial disparities. Figure skating can be expensive because you have to pay for the costumes, travel, ice time, skates, and coach time,” Clarke said. 

The Howard University figure skating team aims to fight against these disparities by providing reduced rates to continue diversifying the ice. “Howard aims to push Black students into different spaces to feel more comfortable in the world, and our team provides an ice space for Black students,” Clarke said. 

The news of Howard’s new team was celebrated all over social media by the Black community. Clarke shared how the executive board has been “so overwhelmed with joy with the attention and traction the club has received.”

“We were very appreciative of the support students and faculty offered us since none of us had experience creating a club of this magnitude before,” Clarke said. Now that the team has all eyes on them, they are focused on the goals that lie ahead. 

“We want to encourage other schools to be interested in white-presenting sports. Even though our white counterparts dominate the sport, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible to win,” Clarke said. She hopes that the team can help increase the visibility of Black skaters, and be a motivation for future HBCU students who want to take part in different ice sports. 

“These sports aren’t something new to the community. They just aren’t as highly pushed as other sports,” Clarke said. Both the Howard University figure skating team and United Capital Blades have been able to get rid of the stigma surrounding sports played on the ice, increasing Black athletes’ involvement. 

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As the winter season approaches, the Howard University figure skating team looks forward to having their first competition against Delaware State in February, while the United Capital Blades kick off their season on Dec. 2 in Massachusetts.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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