DANVILLE — With dramatic eliminations at both the high school and collegiate level over the past decade, these are tough times for many swimming programs, especially for male competitors.
Pools have been filled in with concrete. Scholarships, even partial ones, at many universities are no more.
Even for prep programs who are supported fully by their administrations, many are fighting a difficult numbers battle, like Danville and Covenant Christian, who faced off in the pool Thursday night.
Covenant had four swimmers – Matthew Cinkoske, Andrew Mossbarger, Benjamin Fulbright and Stephen Kilbourn – compete in its 126-26 loss to the host Warriors. They’d normally have five, but Joe Qiu was out to celebrate Chinese New Year.
“He’s an exchange student, so we gave him the night off for the holiday,” Covenant coach Chris Hutchison said.
With five on the roster, lofty expectations give way to realism in regard to team results.
“They know what’s going to happen because of the numbers,” Hutchison said. “At most we can put three guys in one event, but usually we can’t do that. We just focus on the individuals, not worrying about who they swim, but doing all they can do.”
Hutchison said that while there are a lot of good club programs on the Westside, most are filled with athletes from Avon, Brownsburg and Plainfield.
“It’s hard to get them, and most successful high school programs have good feeder systems,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of our kids don’t start until they’re freshmen in high school. Many elsewhere start when they’re 5 years old, which puts us about a decade behind.”
Hutchison isn’t deterred by the challenges.
“There are things we’re gonna try, to work with some of the private middle schools and elementary schools, to promote the sport more,” Hutchison said. “With some of the legislation with vouchers, we can help some kids that before couldn’t go to a private school, and that opens some doors for some kids.We also want to get more kids from our school interested.”
With 14 swimmers and two divers, Danville’s boys team is twice the size it was last year. Still, it isn’t enough to secure many scoreboard victories, so an adjusted mental approach is necessary.
“They’ve been good about being upbeat,” Danville coach Leah Miller said. “I just tell them to go out and do what they need to do. They do it, and it always helps to have someone next to them that they have to race.”
Danville isn’t devoid of talent. Matt Neilson won the 200 freestyle at the recent Sagamore Conference meet, Kasey Hedrick took the top podium spot in diving and Miller said first-year swimmer Sean Wolfe is among the other Warriors who’ve made significant improvement since the start of the season.
While not facing the same participation gap as Covenant, Danville is engaged in a similar effort to increase participation.
“It starts at the club level, and making sure they don’t get burnt out so that when they reach middle school or high school, they still really want to do it,” said Miller, who swam at Avon and Butler. “It’s also about getting them to love the sport of swimming, and letting them know that while it’s hard work, it does pay off.”
— Follow Westside Flyer sports writer Brent Glasgow on Twitter @BGlasgow37.