Maya James and Cheyenne Walker have been able to set a standard and make history at Howard University thanks to their love for ice skating.
The two university students were unaware of one another’s existence or shared interests. Walker, a senior studying Afro-American studies and political science, and James, a junior studying psychology, were both eager to resume their skating, even fantasizing about the possibility of 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.”
James was moved to contact Walker using Instagram to find out about the possibility of collaborating to formally establish a figure skating club in 2022 when she saw an article about Walker, a fellow skater and Howard student.
Though they had no idea where to begin, their sheer determination carried them through. Walker wrote the team constitution using her skills as a political science major, and together, they worked on the schedule and budget.
Walker recalled being excited to hear from James. She revealed that she had been interacting with other figure skating girls who were enrolled at the same school; they also had the desire to start a club but were unsure of where to begin.
“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.
To get the club registered, they both took on roles: James as president and Walker as vice president. Since skating is not a Division I sport, they had to persuade the university to support their club and allow skating to be offered at an HBCU.
The Howard University Figure Skating Team became official in the summer of 2023, making history as the first intercollegiate figure skating team at an HBCU.
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.
The two officially announced the club’s debut on social media. They attended the school’s student association fair to recruit skaters to join their team, immediately attracting a large number of students who were intrigued, many of whom had never skated before but wanted to give it a shot.
Even after launching the club and recruiting members, the team still faced challenges. Walker and James had to arrange for a 5 a.m. bus to take the skaters to a rink in Maryland, more than 30 minutes away from the Howard campus, because the only rink in the Washington, D.C. region has been closed for construction.
Nonetheless, the first practice was a success, and many of the members were looking forward to the next session. Founder of Diversify Ice Joel Savary and board member Joy Thomas are assisting with team coaching. Diversify Ice also gave guidance and support to James and Walker during the team’s developing stages.
The Howard University Figure Skating team intends to compete in its first competition in February 2024 at the University of Delaware, and despite the long journey, the skaters are enthusiastic about their first opportunity 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 club to ensure that students of color had equal access to skating, encouraged others who wanted to participate in the sport.
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.”