Athletics at this school increasing in Black representation, reflecting national trends

Riley+Pennington%2C+member+of+the+women%E2%80%99s+basketball+team+and+senior%2C+passes+a+basketball+to+a+teammate+during+a+game.+She+said+she+thinks+the+demographics+of+Carmel+explain+why+there+may+be+underrepresentation+of+blacks+in+some+sports+at+CHS.

Hannah Baer

Riley Pennington, member of the women’s basketball team and senior, passes a basketball to a teammate during a game. She said she thinks the demographics of Carmel explain why there may be underrepresentation of blacks in some sports at CHS.

By Alivia Romaniuk, Carmel High School - IN

February is Black History Month, dedicated to remembering and celebrating those who paved the way for today’s society, breaking deeply-rooted racial barriers. Arguably some of the most groundbreaking achievements have been in athletics, where Black athletes like Jackie Robinson, Dominique Dawes, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson,  and the Williams sisters broke records and became household names, opening the doors for further generations of Black excellence.

Zachary Cox, member of the men’s track and field team and senior, said sports can be a means of unification and representation for those who have suffered amid recent events.

“From a national sports perspective Black representation is at an all-time high,” he said. “(There are) NBA players wearing BLM (Black Lives Matter) shirts in warm up and in the NFL players were wearing BLM-empowering words on the back of their helmets.”

Athletics Director Jim Inskeep said he strives to create a welcoming and diverse athletic community.

“I do think we have worked hard, and will continue to work hard, to increase the diversity in our coaching staffs. Students need to have leadership that understands all backgrounds and that goes well beyond the racial struggles our nation has experienced. Finding strong adult leaders that nurture and provide positive support to all of our student athletes is the goal with each coaching here,” he said.

Senior Zachary Cox jumps over a hurdle while practicing for upcoming track meets. He said, “Carmel does a good job of keeping student athletes’ views open and not trying to block or hide anything.”

Cox said he agreed.

“I think Black representation in sports at Carmel is at a good point. It’s no secret that African-Americans are minorities in Carmel, and with that being said I believe Carmel does a good job of keeping student athletes’ views open and not trying to block or hide anything they’ve said or trying to say,” he said.

Riley Pennington, member of the women’s basketball team and senior, said she agrees that African-Americans are a minority in athletics at this school.

“I think because of the demographics in Carmel, we have less African-American representation in sports than most places nationwide but it varies from each team,” she said.

Demographics are slow to change, but Inskeep said he has seen Carmel grow more diverse over the past 20 years.

He said, “This can be seen across Hamilton County as student demographics continue to be more diverse each school year. As someone who has lived here my whole life, I think it is awesome to see this change in Carmel. Different races and cultures are enhancing our communities and definitely our athletic programs.”

For generations, sports have been a unifying force; a means of putting political, social, religious, and racial differences aside and coming together to root for a common goal. But by focusing on those differences,  Cox said the past year has shown that sports can take an even bigger role in society.

“I believe a lot of recognition was put on Black people in sports over the summer in reaction to the George Floyd incident,” Cox said. “I do believe that college sports teams, the NFL and the NBA have done a better job of showing the other side of players, the non-athletic side.”

Inskeep said, “Sports is the one area of interest in our society that unites communities and a fan base to support the team regardless of skin color.

“It has been a great thing in my opinion for society as a whole in the last 40 years. The last year has been really difficult and created divides in our society. It is sad, but has restarted a very important discussion about racial biases and inequities. All of us play a role daily in making all opportunities equal for every student.”

To view stories of significant historical black athletes, click here: Sports | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu)

This story was originally published on HiLite on February 16, 2021.