In an effort to make swimming a more accessible sport, the Dalhousie University varsity swim team is running a volunteer initiative to teach grade school students how to swim.
“I think swimming is a life skill,” said Noah Mascoll-Gomes, a member of the Dal swim team and driving force behind the initiative. “It’s an important survival skill and competitive swimming is a great sport.”
While Mascoll-Gomes thinks it’s important for everyone to learn to swim, he is specifically focusing on groups that are not historically represented in the world of competitive swimming in this program.
“People from diverse backgrounds and people of colour tend to gravitate to other sports like basketball and football,” he said. “I just wanted to provide an opportunity for those kids to access swimming because it’s fun and they like it.”
Currently, the Tigers are working with 31 students from two elementary schools in the Halifax area, St.Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary and Joseph Howe Elementary. The students range from being in fourth to sixth grade.
Mascoll-Gomes got the idea to form this initiative when he was in New Brunswick and learned about a provincial program, Swim to Survive, which teaches elementary school students to swim as part of their curriculum.
Opening doors to new opportunities
For Mascoll-Gomes, who hails from St. John’s, Antigua, this is a relatable experience.
“I didn’t really experience this as much in the Caribbean because it’s a predominantly black country but coming to the States and Canada, it’s interesting being one of two people of colour on a pool deck of five hundred athletes,” he said.
He also noted the opportunities that swimming has allowed him to have, such as getting university scholarships and allowing him to travel.
Aside from competing in U Sports, Mascoll-Gomes has also competed in international events, including the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and, more recently, the 2023 Caribbean and Central American Games.
“[Competitive swimming] is a great avenue for children to thrive, do well, travel and get into university,” said Mascoll-Gomes. “With this initiative, I wanted to make it more accessible to communities where it wasn’t as popular.”
Though the Tigers initiative is a learn-to-swim program, the students are all at different skill levels when they start.
“Some kids came in with different skill sets but that’s fine,” said Mascoll-Gomes. “The goal is to improve everyone’s swimming ability.”
The students are broken up into several groups during the class, each run by a different Tigers varsity swimmer, to allow the class to cater to their individual needs.
The students in the Tigers program currently have to miss class to attend swim lessons with Dal’s swim team, but Mascoll-Gomes hopes that won’t continue to be the case.
“Hopefully we can get it integrated into their school program, where maybe this is their phys-ed class, and once a month or every two weeks they come and learn how to swim,” he said.
The Tigers team
One of the swimmers who teaches the Tigers swim classes is Reagan Crowell who won Atlantic University Sport’s (AUS) Swimmer of the Year last season. Crowell is also a member of the AUS record-holding 400-metre medley freestyle team from the 2020 AUS Championship at Dalhousie.
This year, Crowell placed first in the women’s 100, 200, 400 and 800-metre freestyle events at the 14th Jack Scholz AUS Invitational Swim Meet hosted by Acadia University on Oct. 21 and 22.
Despite Mascoll-Gomes being absent from the event, Crowell’s performance ensured the Tigers’ first-place victory in the women’s and overall categories in the event, with the team earning an overall score of 1,617 points.
Even with their stellar performances in competition, the Tigers swimmers still want to do more for their sport.
“There’s a lot of talent that hasn’t even been tapped into,” said Mascoll-Gomes. “I just hope that we can see a more diverse playing field in the next couple of years.”