A Particularity of Diversity at the NCSA Junior Nationals: Simone, Lia, Janet, and Their Coaches

Something really cool happened at NCSA Junior Nationals a few weeks ago. I’m not sure how many of you noticed; you may not have if you were following along at home or just reading recaps (nor may you have cared).

Check out the top three finishers from the women’s 100 free final at what was probably the fastest junior-level meet of the season:

1. Simone Manuel, First Colony Swim Team 47.73 (National Age Group Record)
2. Lia Neal, Asphalt Green, 47.91
3. Janet Hu, Nation’s Capital Swim Club, 48.67

Let’s talk about a subject that many, especially in a “don’t-rock-the-boat” sport like swimming won’t want to touch. Really, we don’t even feel fully comfortable talking about it. Sometimes, though, that’s what we have to do. Open up the conversation on something nobody wants to talk about. In this case, that’s the subject of diversity.

Simone Manuel is an African-American swimmer, who is coached at First Colony by Allison Beebe. Lia Neal is an African-American swimmer, who is coached at Asphalt Green by Rachel Stratton-Mills. Janet Hu is an Asian-American, who trains at the Tyson’s YMCA NCAP site under senior coach John Flanigan; but at the Tyson’s site, Marilyn Mangels is the head coach and trained Hu as the Head Age Group Coach when she was younger.

Are you seeing where we’re going with this?

At the 2011 NCAA Championships, for the first time ever, we saw an African-American 1-2 in the 200 free when Brett Fraser of Florida won and Dax Hill of Texas was 2nd.

After decades of work by many in-and-around the sport in the United States, we are finally seeing some results from diversity efforts. We are seeing success from athletes with African, Asian, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander heritage at the highest levels. We are seeing women break through the coaching ranks to the point that the “old boys club” will have no choice but to open its doors to women, lest they be kicked in instead.

The signs are happening all over the place. Sue Chen, coach of Jack Conger, has been named the new head coach at Machine Aquatics’ new site in Maryland: a potentially massive market for the team. Natalie Hinds was the fastest freshman 100 freestyler in the country at NCAA’s.

Our work as a community is not done. The opportunities must continue to be presented for the underrepresented demographics to enter and succeed in our sport, and those within the underrepresented classes must continue to push the interest in doing so. This moment, though, however subtle it may have been, is a water-shed one for the new generation, because the fact is that the new generation Simply Doesn’t Care.

We can’t speak for the whole of the group, but the new generation doesn’t care if they’re on a relay with black or white or anything else. It took weeks for anybody to even address where these girls’ ancestors, generations ago, came from, or who their coaches were. The fact was that there was a thrill for their successes, and nobody even cared what they looked like beyond college coaches looking at their heights and estimating how that might relate to their potential.

Is this to say that stigmas still don’t exist around our sport? Absolutely not, they are still there. These days, anybody who makes a derogatory comment about race within any public area of the swimming community is shunned, if not looked at in total bewilderment. Stigmas that still exist do so outside of the community, outside of SwimSwam readers. Anybody left who has hangups about these sorts of things within the highest levels of the sport are in small pockets that are being pushed further-and-further to the periphery. As swimmers and coaches from all creed, race, color, and background continue to succeed, the voices of the dissenters will become harder-and-harder to hear.

(Editor’s Note: There is no intent to push any sort of a cause on any of these swimmers who don’t want it. Those like Cullen Jones who have chosen to take up the torch for diversity have done so by their own will, but we are now in an era where anybody who doesn’t want to simply doesn’t have to, and those who wish to will be lauded for it. And that’s a great era to be in.)

See some of these great female coaches speak at the upcoming Women in Coaches Clinic at Stanford University from April 12th-13th. More info here.

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7 years ago

Here! Here! Let’s hope that we continue to see this sort of diversity spread into the college coaching ranks.

7 years ago

Great that you wrote what many observers of swimming are thinking and have known for a long time: there are great women age group coaches and great young afro-american swimmers. I’m not sure that including Hu, an Asian American is consistent with your point though. Swimmers with an Asian American heritage have been well represented in swimming for awhile;Nathan Adrian for example. Go to any age group meet and you will see a proportionate number of swimmers that have an Asian American heritage. BTW,it is interesting that you tagged Lia Neal as an Afro-American swimmer when she is half Chinese. As far as women coaches, your observation Marilyn Mangels was Hu’s age group coach is dead on. She is a… Read more »

Reply to  don
7 years ago

Thanks for the info about Lia Neal.

Never knew she’s half chinese.

She’s always portrayed as african american.

It seems some race is more prominent than another.

7 years ago

Thanks, Braden, for an extremely well written article on a still somewhat sensitive subject. The good news is that African-American student athletes are well-represented geographically at schools across the nation and have been for decades. It’s terrific that Annie Zhu is thriving at Georgia, but in general Asian students cluster to schools in the West and the Northeast. As such, the Pac-12 powers will benefit disproportionately with Asian swimmers as we’ve already seen with Tran, Au, Cheng, Tosky, Neal, and Li.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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