Marietta Taylor remembers the day her daughter joined the Jackson Public School District swim team. Taylor, an 8th-grade history teacher, had just finished decorating her classroom for the upcoming school year. Arian La’Pearl Alexandria Taylor, then a 7th-grade student at Northwest Jackson International Baccalaureate Middle School, hurried her mother out the door.

“We’ve got to get over to Davis Magnet,” Arian told her mother. “There is a swim interest meeting.”

A year earlier, Marietta had discovered the JPS Swim team through a short article on the district website. The new team was small, and Marietta felt it would be a great opportunity for her daughter to use her newly acquired swim skills. However, Mississippi High School Activities Association regulations would not permit the sixth grader to participate for another year. Marietta put the idea aside and thought her daughter had forgotten about it also. Arian had not.

“We go to the meeting that day,” Marietta told the Crirec on May 20. “Then she tries out, and she makes it. We’ve been involved ever since.”

Now a Jim Hill High School graduate with the Class of 2024, Arian is the first athlete in Jackson Public School District history to receive a swimming scholarship. The standout swimmer signed with Meridian Community College on May 16, 2024, during a ceremony at the high school.

MCC introduced swimming in 2023. It is the only community college in the state to offer it as a sport.  The team competes against other National Junior College Athletic Association teams. Arian is the first African-American athlete to receive a swimming scholarship from the school. 

Jim Hill senior Arian Taylor earned a swimming scholarship to Meridian Community College in May 2024 before she graduated. She is the first swimmer from Jackson Public Schools to earn a scholarship in the sport. Photo courtesy Jackson Public Schools

The family found the opportunity after Marietta began researching swim programs and scholarships. When she discovered the new program at Meridian Community College, she reached out to MCC swim coach Wade Heggie. Arian had already been considering the college because of its nursing program. Coach Heggie invited the family for a tour, and the campus and people they met impressed the pair.

“(MCC was) already on my list of colleges,” Arian Taylor said. “Once I found out about the swim team, I said, ‘Yes, let's do it.’”

Heggie showed the group the campus’s indoor heated pool where Arian will train and discussed the team’s competitive training and travel schedule. Heggie believes the year-round two-practice-a-day training and weightlifting of the program will help Arian grow in the sport.

“I'm excited to see her compete in her events,” Heggie said. “I'm excited to see her train.”

Taylor began swimming at 11 years old. She first learned at a summer camp the 100 Black Men of Jackson hosted. Heggie said programs like that one, which provides children an opportunity to learn a life-saving skill, are important.

“We need to get more and more of our kids learning to swim because this is not only a lifelong skill but also a skill (necessary) just in case they fall off a boat or they go on a trip. We don't want to have any more kids drown,” Heggie said. “Just giving them the opportunity for them to learn to swim is a big plus.”

For many in the Jim Hill community, swimming is not a reality. The school is located in West Jackson. The school is flanked by a graveyard and the once industrial, now blighted Highway 80. There is no public pool in the West Jackson area. In fact, despite having a swim team, the Jackson Public School District does not own a single pool. The team practices at G.R.I.T. on Flowood Drive or at the Briarwood pool in North Jackson.

The JPS swim team includes students from various middle and high schools in the district. Arian Taylor is the first athlete from Jim Hill to represent her school on the swim team.

She said that each swimmer represents their team, and they are scored according to their school’s MHSAA classification. Those scores are added together to produce the team score. Although the team has grown since Marietta first read about them, Jim Hill swim coach Micha'el Sheriff said there is still room for huge growth. She believes Arian’s progression to a college-level swim team is big for the JPS program.

“It brings a lot of attention to it and a lot of awareness,” Sheriff said. “A lot of people did not know that we even had a swim team. So to have Ari secure this scholarship and bring light to the team does us great justice because now you know we're out there more, and we can try to recruit more swimmers going forward.”

Arian also received a choir scholarship. She is the first student from the renowned Jim Hill choir to earn one from Meridian Community College.

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Torsheta Jackson is MFP's education-equity reporter, in collaboration with Report for America. She is passionate about telling the unique and personal stories of the people, places and events in Mississippi. The Shuqualak, Miss., native holds a B.A. in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Mississippi. She has had bylines on Bash Brothers Media, Mississippi Scoreboard and in the Jackson Free Press. Torsheta lives in Richland, Miss., with her husband, Victor, and two of their four children.