Team challenges range from new coach to alleged racism

A sudden change in the head of the household has sparked some familial disagreement among the FAMU swim team. Despite controversy that led to the termination of former head coach Ian Lee, the team has pulled together and found a new coach, E. Newton Jackson.

“He was definitely a cool guy,” said Edmund Royster, a junior from Detroit. “Definitely a worthwhile coach. He knew a lot about swimming in general, stroke, technique. He definitely had the motivation to push us forward.”

On the other side, some said his unique practices were not always right. For Jack Dash, a sophomore industrial engineering student from Charleston, S.C., who has been swimming competitively since he was 7, some of Lee’s techniques were a great departure from coaching styles to which he was accustomed.

“As opposed to loading up on a whole lot of yardage, he’d reduce the amount of yardage and increase the intensity of the sets,” Dash said. “So instead of swimming long hours, you swim shorter, but harder.”

Dash felt this works in theory, but doesn’t translate well in competition.

“His workouts were designed to get you in shape, but not necessarily the shape needed to swim so fast,” he said.

The team is responding well to Jackson so far. Members said his one-on-one sessions during and after meets have created a sense of knowledge and commitment that members were hoping for after coming back to a squad without a coach.

Members of the swim team said they are ready for new challenges, but a recent bout with alleged racism was not one of them.

At a swim meet at Florida State University, Dash said he was preparing on the pool deck when he noticed a young white child pointing at him and whispering something to his mother.

“In the back of my mind, it looked like the kid could’ve been saying, ‘Look, mom, black people,’ ” Dash said. “My coach saw that and had the same thinking process I had.”

The incident struck a chord throughout the team, with some swimmers choosing sides. For freshman walk-on Omega Menders, this was a no-brainer.

“I felt it was kind of racist,” said Menders, a business administration student from Atlanta. “I took it to the athletic staff and put in a complaint to basically ask that someone would hear me out and hear the situation so I could have it on record.”

This act of reaching out was not met with the support she expected. Menders soon found opposition to her decision.

Greg Lowe, captain of the team, said he felt some of his teammates had blown the situation out of proportion.

“We decided as a team to handle this incident in-house,” said Lowe, a senior Spanish education student from Plainfield, N.J. “But someone called the A.D., who has come to no meets and was not privy to our situation.”

He also cited a time when Athletic Director William Hayes sat directly behind the entire squad at a meet without recognizing them as FAMU’s team.

Despite a series of events that could have destroyed their season, the team’s next challenge is the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association Championships in Huntersville, N.C.