Becoming More Than 1%

Written By: Cliff Gordon

It’s never easy tackling the subjects of Diversity and Inclusion in an area that previously did not put much focus on it. Even now, when more of a focus is being put into diversifying our sport, we are unfortunately limited in so many ways. However, for those of us who are committed to making our sport the best it can be through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, we haven’t been deterred.

The most important demographic in our sport is our younger athletes. The same rings true for diversity in our sport. One thing we’ve learned about minority athletes in our sport, and our communities, is the lack of exposure to the sport of swimming, or just a pool in general. You see the greatest evidence of this in the drowning statistics of the Black community vs. the White community. From ages 5-14, Blacks drown at a rate 3 times greater than that of their White counterparts.

Being the Head Coach of Hillsborough Aquatic Club and the Aquatics Director at Orange County Sportsplex, I am very fortunate to have 2 pools to utilize. I am also surrounded by a swimming community that truly cares about the well-being of the young minority population in our area.

In 2019, with the help of this group of individuals, we re-created a program to help introduce the world of swimming to underprivileged families in the Hillsborough area. This program originally started in 2019 in Greensboro by the Greensboro Aquatic Center, who executed their program beautifully. We then took that program, adjusted it to our facility and staff, and then made it available to second graders at 3 schools in Hillsborough. The schools bussed those second graders to the pool during their physical education time, and we used that time to teach those children free swim lessons and in water lifesaving skills. In the two months before the pandemic hit in 2020, we were able to successfully serve all 3 schools.

However, the work cannot stop there. I have been very fortunate to serve in my role as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair for North Carolina Swimming for the last year. In doing so, we have created an LSC Diversity Camp, as well as, a Community Day for the Triangle Area here in North Carolina.

Even specifically in the sport, our most important and impactful athletes are our age group swimmers. Without our age group swimmers, we have no National Junior Team, no National Team, no Olympic Team. We constantly suffer losing athletes to Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Baseball, and Soccer simply because of the cost and the access to the sport. We have to do everything we possibly can to make this opportunity affordable and accessible to all. Programs like diversity select camps and community days are very powerful tools for our younger athletes, but it two different ways.

Diversity Select Camps offer our younger swimmers in the sport the opportunity to experience athletes who look like them, who swim at the same level. This may not seem like an important aspect for an athlete, but when you spend so much time around people who don’t look like you, an athlete could easily gravitate to another athletic atmosphere that they view as “easier” to be in. By showing these athletes you do have peers in the sport who look like you, it helps to bring our minority community together, while also encouraging more minority participation in the sport.

The community days will help us take the sport beyond our swimming borders to those communities that normally have no access to even just recreational swimming. Most importantly, it will give beginner athletes the chance to, again, see high level minority athletes competing in a sport they might consider.

In a year where everything was so divisive from a pandemic, to issues plaguing our minority communities, we need sports, and our sport specifically, to keep us together more than ever. There are many avenues we can take to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our sport. Whether that be through scholarships, through camps, through community days, or through free swim lessons, we must do more to move our sport forward. Our focus has shifted to the correct issue within our sport, but we still must do more to reach the pinnacle of what we truly can be.

In his 6th year with the Hillsborough Aquatic Club, Head Coach Clifton Gordon plans to build on the success of the previous seasons that saw swimmers qualify for the NCS 14 & Under Championships (1 Individual Event Winner in 2017,2019), the 14 & Under Southeastern Sectional Championships (2 Individual Event Winners in 2017,2018), the NCS 15 & Over Championships, USA Swimming Futures Championship, USA Swimming Jr. National Championships, and the North Carolina Swimming Select Camp. Under Coach Gordon, HAC swimmers have broken more than 400 team records during his tenure year as head coach. Prior to taking over HAC, Coach Gordon was the Head Age Group coach with HAC where he coached swimmers to multiple NCS 14 & Under Championship qualifying times.Gordon grew up swimming with the Delaware Swim Team in Wilmington, Delaware under Coach Bruce Gemmell. He swam for 4 years at the University of North Carolina, where he graduated with a degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communications. While at UNC, he was a member of the All-Time Top 10 in the 100 and 200 yard Backstroke, and was a recipient of the 2014-2015 Hill Carrow Team Spirit Award. Over his swimming career he qualified for USA Swimming Junior National Championships, National Championships, and U.S. Open.

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