Students Make History at Howard University with Figure Skating Team

Because of their passion for ice skating, Maya James and Cheyenne Walker have been able to create a precedent and make history at Howard University.

The two university students had no idea each other existed or shared interests. Walker, a senior majoring in Afro-American studies and political science, and James, a sophomore majoring in psychology, were both excited to continue their skating, even fantasizing about forming a figure skating team at Howard.

James told US Figure Skating, “I just missed the sport, honestly. I didn’t really skate that much during the pandemic; I stopped skating for like two years. As I was coming to college, I also saw a lot of the U.S. collegiate Instagram pages and how they went to competitions and how the competitions look so fun and welcoming.”

When James saw an article on Walker, a fellow skater and Howard student, she was inspired to approach Walker via Instagram to inquire about the idea of working to formally launch a figure skating club in 2022.

They had no notion where to begin, but their sheer determination got them through. Walker, a political science major, developed the team constitution, and they collaborated on the timeline and budget.

Walker remembered being delighted to hear from James. She added that she had been talking with other figure skating females at the same school; they, too, wanted to create a club but were unsure where to start.

“So, when Maya was like, ‘Yeah, I want to start this,’ I was on board for sure because it’s definitely something that I wanted to see on our campus community,” Walker expressed.

They both took on duties to get the group registered: James as president and Walker as vice president. They had to persuade the university to support their club and enable skating to be given at an HBCU because skating is not a Division I sport.

The Howard University Figure Skating Team made history by becoming the first intercollegiate figure skating team at an HBCU in the summer of 2023.

Walker shared her motivation for starting the club, saying, “Especially being on an HBCU campus, I thought it was so important for us to bring not only the sport to the campus but [make] sure it’s accessible and for everyone.”

“Although I’m in my senior year, I’m so happy that Maya brought it to the table. I’m glad we’re working as a team to make this happen because I’m so excited that I can leave my impact on the campus community,” she remarked.

On social media, the two officially announced the club’s launch. They went to the student association fair to recruit skaters for their team, and they instantly drew a huge number of kids who were interested, many of whom had never skated before but wanted to give it a try.

The squad experienced hurdles even after creating the club and recruiting members. Walker and James had to arrange for a 5 a.m. bus to take the skaters to a rink in Maryland, which was more than 30 minutes away from the Howard campus, because the sole rink in the Washington, D.C. area was closed for construction.

Nonetheless, the first practice went well, and many of the participants were looking forward to the next one. Diversify Ice founder Joel Savary and board member Joy Thomas are helping with team coaching. Diversify Ice also provided guidance and support to James and Walker during the team’s early stages of development.

The Howard University Figure Skating team will compete in its first competition in February 2024 at the University of Delaware, and despite the lengthy trek, the skaters are excited for their first chance to represent Howard.

James shared her excitement at the thought of competing with other colleges: “I heard from another figure skating team that the competitions have really good energy and it’s very welcoming. I’m excited to come to the competition where it’s welcoming… I feel like at a college level we’re all supporting each other, so I feel like that’s going to be super exciting.”

Gabrielle Francis, a team member and practicing skater who joined the group to ensure that kids of color had equal access to skating, urged others to join.

She said, “If you’re thinking about doing skating—if you have the tiniest inkling about doing it—you should definitely do it. There’s not that many of us out there on the ice making a difference. I just want people to know no matter what you look like, the ice is for you.”


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