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East Harlem Swimming Program Takes Kids From Novices To Junior Olympians

By Dartunorro Clark | July 24, 2016 10:37am
 Morgon Washington, 9, practices at the Children's Aid Society in East Harlem in preparation for his competition in a regional Junior Olympics.
Morgon Washington, 9, practices at the Children's Aid Society in East Harlem in preparation for his competition in a regional Junior Olympics.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM – Morgon Washington’s mother told him not many African Americans take up swimming.

So three years ago she signed the 7-year-old up for a swimming program through the Children’s Aid Society in East Harlem at the Dunlevy Milbank Center.

Two years later at age 9, Lane is poised to participate with several other teammates at a regional Junior Olympics competition.

“I feel proud of myself,” he said.

The program aims to not only provide swimming access to Harlem children, but also increase interest in the sport by some young black and Hispanic kids.

“It’s a major lack of resources…lack of exposure,” said Miguel Escalante, one of the team’s coaches. “You see kids around Harlem dribbling basketballs. Kids should have more than just basketball.”

The team — named the Stingrays — is composed of roughly 65 kids, and the team will send several of its swimmers to the Metro League Long Course Junior Olympics, which is affiliated with USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport.

Along with Washington, Alade Haskins, 11, Christina Isom, 10, Jordan Lane, 10, and Dexter Vizhco, 12, are all poised to compete in the Junior Olympics competition this weekend from July 22 to July 24.

Escalante said when he started four years ago, the program had little focus and when many of the kids came to him, they were novices. But now, after more rigorous coaching and traveling to different competitions throughout the country, many team members have grown into disciplined swimmers. 

“When I first started, I was really nervous,” said Lane, who started at age 7. “Now that I’ve done this for three years I feel more confident doing it over and over again.”

Isom, who started swimming two years ago, said competing in the tournament is a “little nerve-racking,” because it is her first time, but she is still excited.

Vizhco, 12, who is also competing the regional Junior Olympics, said being on the team has helped him focus on becoming a better athlete, and someday he hopes to become an Olympic swimmer.

“For me, going from being a kid just sitting at home watching TV to being an athlete is incredible,” he said.