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Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program Provides College Readiness Support and Competitive Swimming Skills for Students of Color

Muhammad Ali Center partners with Trident Swim Foundation with support from ESPN, supply tools and resources for swimming and academic success

Pilot Program Already Showing Student Progress and Community Impact

Today, the Muhammad Ali Center and Trident Swim Foundation, announce the launching of the Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program. Since October, student participants have been piloting the program which provides after school academic support and competitive swim instruction at Central High School—Muhammad Ali’s alma mater—with overarching goals of preparing students to attend and graduate from top colleges and to learn the sport of swimming as a means of helping to reverse the startling statistics surrounding the drowning rates in African American communities.

A significant component of the Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program is also the establishment of a year-round competitive USA Swimming Team. During its pilot year, the swimmer scholar program has supported 10 Central High School students and 15 W.E.B. DuBois Academy middle school students, all of whom had little or no swimming ability. The Ali Stingrays program is made possible through the generous support of ESPN, Inc., with additional funding from The Gheens Foundation.

Several reports support the significance of introducing the sport of swimming to underserved African American students. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 64% of African American children have no/low swimming ability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is over three times that of white children in the same age range. A USA Swimming Foundation study has also revealed that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13% chance that their child will learn how to swim.

“Many facets of the community often turn their backs on these kids with regard to swimming, as well as not understanding the required love to teach it and the energy it requires to grow the sport,” said Ali Stingrays Coach T.J. Lechner. “I want to be a part of a program that turns all of this around and starts helping students to learn. Love and passion are the foundations to teaching anyone anything, and I know that I have that love and passion to help these kids grow as students and swimmers—but even more importantly, to grow as people.”

“At ESPN, we believe that every young person has the right to not only play sports, but to use sports as a vehicle to reach their human potential,” said Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. “We are incredibly proud to team up with the Muhammad Ali Center and the Trident Swim Foundation to bring the Ali Stingrays Program to Louisville, so that more young people can swim safely and use it as a means of learning and empowerment.”

The uniqueness of the Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program is that, in addition to receiving life-saving swim instruction in the pool, students are also building lifelong learning skills outside the pool that will lead to high academic achievement. Ali Center staff will also incorporate into the Swimmer Scholar Program its Creating Our Future Character Education Program, which utilizes Muhammad Ali’s six core principles as a roadmap for students to develop a successful life plan.

“Muhammad Ali, like all athletes, recognized that dedication and self-confidence are key foundational elements to attaining success not just in one’s career, but in life,” said Donald Lassere, President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center. “So what is most exciting to us about the Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program is that we have a stake in student’s academic achievement and in building their confidence for when they begin thinking about applying to top tier colleges. Fostering high academic achievement goals are critical for communities to impact not just this generation of students- but generations to come.”

“We are passionate about teaching socio-economically disadvantaged children the safety, health benefits and fun of competitive swimming, while simultaneously improving their performance in school and beyond,” said Kristin Gary, co-founder of Trident Swim Foundation. “We are thrilled to partner with the Muhammad Ali Center (MAC) and to incorporate their Character Building program into our curriculum. Our partnership with MAC is an exciting opportunity for us to bring the Swimmer Scholar program to children from Central High School and Louisville’s historic West End community.”

“When Central High was first asked to be part of the Ali Stingrays Program, I said ‘yes’ without hesitation,” said Dr. Raymond Green, Principal of Central High School. “Our students already look up to Muhammad Ali as our school’s most famous alumnus, but in having the Ali Stingrays Program be at Central, there is expanded meaning in what defines the word ‘champion’— both as a swimmer and as a scholar. We are thankful to have community partners who believe in the success of our students and of the Stingrays from the W.E.B. Dubois Academy.”

“At DuBois, we received overwhelming interest in the Ali Stingrays program from students and parents,” said Robert E. Gunn, Jr., Principal of W.E.B. Academy in Louisville. “In fact, we had to turn down 30 students who applied and then others kept inquiring as to how they could participate. It got to the point that I stopped taking names because I felt like there was no way in the world we would need a longer list. Learning how to swim is an invaluable life skill and incorporates values shared by the Muhammad Ali Center and DuBois Academy’s P.R.I.D.E Values.”