Kinston native makes history coaching only all Black collegiate swimming team

KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) -You can just feel and hear the euphoria and elation that surrounds Howard University’s swimming and diving teams.

The Bison men and women are in the process of leaving their mark on what some consider to be the most underappreciated sport in the world.

“I’m not happy that we’re the only HBCU or all-Black team,” said Nic Askew, head coach of Howard University swimming and diving team.

However, they are, and leading the way for the historic squad is Askew who’s also known as Kinston’s very own.

“It’s so important for me to also spread this love to a place that developed me,” Askew said. “The place that raised me.”

Askew says he spent a lot of his childhood at the Galaxy of Sports indoor pool as a member of the Kinston Killer Whales swim team.

Head coach Mary Respess is who he says molded him as a swimmer.

“She was phenomenal,” Askew said. “Very tough coach, but she was tough in a motherly way.”

Respess would coach Askew for many years, however, he says they lost touch when he went off to Howard on a swimming and tennis scholarship.

However, the recent success of his Bison men and women was brought to Respess’ attention and after nearly 25 years she gave Askew a call.

“He says I know this is somebody from home, but who is it,” Respess said. “I said I’m the one who kicked your butt and got you in the pool at seven.”

Respess says she’s extremely proud of the history Askew and the Bison are making, but no one may be more excited for him than his longtime friend Nicholas Harvey.

Harvey says he and Askew were at Emma Webb Park nearly every day growing up.

“We’re Emma Webb babies,” Harvey said. “Emma Webb pool is something very near and dear to our hearts. We grew up there, we were raised there.”

Some would say that foundation prepared Askew to lead the men’s team to its first conference championship in 34 years at only the age of 44.

“He would work really hard and I think Nic will continue to do that,” Respess said.

Askew developed that work ethic despite growing up in a place where he says violence can be heavy, but he believes anyone can make it.

“Keep going,” Askew said. “The odds are against us there’s no question, but you can persevere and we’ve seen that in Kinston.”

Coach Askew says that hopefully, his team’s success will open doors for other HBCU’s looking to form a swimming team.

Askew also encourages more African American kids to pursue swimming because data shows that 64 percent of Black children have little to no swimming ability.