A Swim Team Grows in Harlem

by Jean Charles
photos by Shem Rajoon

In Harlem, a swim team grows from the hearts of ordinary people; the average Joes and Janes, like you and me. At the Hansborough Community center, dreams are forged on the Dolphin swim team – a group of young adults brought together by Ms. Dorise Black.

She has the aura of a wise woman, as if she thinks every word through before she speaks. Her walk looks as if she calculates every step, like the ground beneath her feet might crumble. She is not scared. She is proud. Ms. Black, a retired schoolteacher, is proud of her students at the Hansborough Community center. She started the swim team many years ago out of necessity and wanting to help people. She beams with pride because the team will be competing, this weekend, in a swim meet against other successful teams in the area, such as the various Boys’ Clubs of New York. Many years ago, people did not realize this team would actually develop from an idea into reality. 

It all started when Ms. Black asked Mr. Luther Gales, a retired police officer, to coach the team. He refused. With continuos urging he changed his mind. Mr.Gale’s refusal to coach the team was because he had never coached before. However, it was for the children and that changed his mind. He has coached the members, ranging from ages 7 to 16, into better swimmers.

The Dolphin swim team is an after-school program, which operates three out of five days per week. They operate out of the Hansborough Community Center on 135th street and 5th Avenue. Besides teaching students to swim, the team functions as a source of academic and moral support for these students.

There are academic requirements that have to be met in order for students to remain on the team. Each member has to keep a grade point average above C. To avoid dropping to lower grades there are tutors, who help the students in their studies. Conduct is also an important part of staying on the team.

Students are expected to behave in a way that ensures the safety of teammates, and themselves. On the Dolphin swim team, safety is a value the students learn and carry for the rest of their lives. There was one instance, though, where the coach reprimanded a member for misconduct. He or she had to complete one hundred word essay explaining his/her motives for misconduct.

The oldest athlete, 16-year-old Kirin, has been swimming with the team for about 2 years and she is also the swim team’s captain. She credits the swim team for keeping her in good health. But, the star on the team is 7 year old Kevin, who is by far one of the best swimmers on the team. Like many of his teammates, he’s been on the team since the beginning. In addition, he has grown to beat the coach, an athletic retired police officer, at the backstroke. But, still the team needs financial help.

According to the coach,” we only use the pool 3 out 5 days, for only two hours each day.” So they need extra time to practice. And they also need new clock and backstroke flags. This may sound like wining, but if a team helps children to be “dedicated”, “committed” or to “persevere”, they should be given as much positive support as possible.

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