Saint Augustine’s University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in North Carolina is making history in its 155th year, for starting the first ever HBCU women’s rowing team. Consisting of five student athletes, the Saint Augustine team has already been “approved and certified by the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA).
The team will be helmed by a professor in the School of Business, Management, and Technology, Dr. Mark Janas, who wants to add an additional five athletes to the roster. If they’re able to expand the team, the women’s rowers will be able to compete in the eight event, because with five athletes, they’re currently only eligible for the Quad. Coach Dr. Janas stated, “Rowing, like cycling, hasn’t traditionally been part of the HBCU experience, and we want to change that.”
Junior Mikahya Hill “joined the team…because it also offered a chance to be a part of a movement. She said…‘What made me want to join was the fact that this was the first HBCU rowing team and he was dedicating it to women. I wanted to be a part of that type of movement and change a predominantly male white sport [with] a little bit of melanin magic, to have black girls doing it…I want to do this so we can inspire other black girls at other schools who want to be rowers and do crew.’”
Cam Brown, president of ACRA, said “ACRA is proud to do whatever we can to support the growth of our sport and [to] encourage St. Augustine’s and other HBCU‘s to join our organization. We have been working with Dr. Janas and St. Augustine’s for over a year to help them where we can with contacts, resources, information and equipment when possible – and it is exciting to see the progress they have made and see the sport continue to grow into areas that are underrepresented.”
“It isn’t that Black athletes are new to rowing,” but rowing has long been associated historically with being a “white” sport. In fact, “[t]he United States Rowing Association reported a mere 13 percent of rowers at all levels are athletes of color. Further research revealed in 2020, 2 percent of rowers in the NCAA were Black.”
Before now, Howard University was the only other HBCU to produce a rowing team, which was featured in a 1964 edition of Sports Illustrated, “one crew on the Housatonic [River], a crew whose skin tones ranged from rich café au lait to deepest mahogany, seemed right at home on the sun-drenched river. These were the oarsmen from Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, the first Negro institution to crash the exclusive ranks of college rowing.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has only been able to compete virtually; however, they are expected to being competing in the water in the Fall of 2022. For those looking to provide support, the Saint Augustine’s University women’s rowing team is currently accepting donations.