At historically Black colleges and universities, making a way out of no way is practically embedded in their charters. It’s in that spirit that Maya James and Cheyenne Walker made HBCU history.
James and Walker had been ice skating since they were kids and lamented they couldn’t continue at Howard. They both spent years training in the sport, but after their admission, they found out the school didn’t have a club. The students ultimately connected on Instagram through their love of skating and thought, ‘Well, why couldn’t we create one?’
“I just missed the sport, honestly,” James told U.S. Figure Skating. “I didn’t really skate that much during the pandemic; I stopped skating for like two years. As I was coming to college, I also saw a lot of the U.S. collegiate Instagram pages and how they went to competitions and how the competitions look so fun and welcoming.”
James, a junior psychology major, and Walker, a senior with a dual major in psychology and Afro-American studies, figured out how to make it happen by determining budgets and scheduling. They got the green light to start recruiting when the club became official this summer. The intercollegiate club is open to anyone on campus, even those with little to no skating experience.
“I think what really was my driving passion to get this club up and running was the fact that figure skating is such an amazing sport, but not everybody has access to it,” Walker said. “Especially being on an HBCU campus, I thought it was so important for us to bring not only the sport to the campus but [make] sure it’s accessible and for everyone.”
They persevered through some obstacles to bring the team to fruition. First, Howard wasn’t initially convinced the club was viable as figure skating is not a Division 1 sport. Also, the only rink available for practice was a half hour away in Maryland.
James and Walker organized a bus to the rink, and despite a 6 a.m. start time, the turnout was good, and students were enthused about skating. The club plans to participate in its first competition in Delaware in February. They are being assisted by Diversify Ice, a Washington, D.C.-based group that is also committed to growing diversity in the skating world.
“It’s a historical opportunity, but it fits very closely within our mission,” Diversify Ice’s founder Joel Savary told U.S. Figure Skating in a recent interview. “This is really at the core of Diversify Ice, being able to make these types of improvements in diversity within schools … Having [Diversify Ice] be able to provide their expertise, not only on the ice but also on the structure of what it would look like, what it’s going to take, how to get a school that has no background into skating to form a team, was really going to be a whole undertaking of the entire team.”
Club member Ariel Clarke says she hopes that Howard’s Figure Skating Club provides a blueprint for other HBCUs to follow.
“Being the first of anything is a really big responsibility because you’re trying to set the precedent for everyone else,” she said. “So, if there is another HBCU that feels like they should create a figure skating team or is inspired by our story, 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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