LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Muhammad Ali Center and Trident Swim Foundation have launched a new scholarship program that will provide college readiness support and competitive swimming skills for students of color.

Since October 2019, students participating in the Ali Stingrays Swimmer Scholar Program have been piloting the program which provides after school academic support and competitive swim instruction at Central High School. Central is Muhammad Ali’s alma mater. The program has 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.

Ali Stingrays
Ali Center

A significant component of the scholarship program is 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.

Central High School exterior_1493088759411.JPG

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.”

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.

RELATED: Muhammad Ali HBO documentary gets hometown screening

RELATED: Ali Center teams up with Metro United Way to announce 'Greatest Give Back' day

RELATED: City unveils new historical marker at West End School in honor of Ali

►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. For Apple or Android users.

Have a news tip? Email assign@whas11.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.