(This is the first of a four part series about Sampson County High School Swimmers.)
I hate to admit it but every year I coach, I think it might be my last. Not because I’m getting old, it’s because coaching is a pain in the rump.
At the start of every swim season in late October the swim team is in total disarray. My swimmers who play football and soccer hopefully are making a deep run into their playoffs, so they’re not at practice yet. By the time they get to me it will be after Thanksgiving and they’ll be F.A.T. (Flailing At Times) and out of shape with their swim muscles. My returning veteran swimmers are virtually ignored by me as I work with the rookies. If not for my assistant coaches Josh Tillett (aquatics director at The Center for Health and Wellness) and Gerard Falls (Sampson Middle School English Teacher), the veteran swimmers would be stirring the pool waters amok with laziness.
All the rookies come to me with claims that they know how to swim. “Coach, I love the water, I’m live at the beach.” Translation: I jump in waves and stay clear of the undertow. “I’m in the pool all summer,” which is code for a kid who can’t find a summer job. “My daughter is a fish you’ll have no problems with her.” Yes, a dead fish who stinks when it comes to competitive swimming. Rookies range from the high end where he can swim a length of the pool with his head above water to the low end where a boat anchor would almost be better. At least an anchor doesn’t need mouth to mouth to rescue.
Fortunately for me I’m not teaching adults to swim. Adults are the worst. They’re a whinny slow dimwitted lot just like me. Teenagers are easy. Contrary to public perception, when forced with a life or death situation – to drown or not to drown – they choose to learn how to swim. Within a week of practice all the newbies progress from swimming like water buffaloes to golden retrievers to tadpoles. 90% of the rookies actually survived our first swim meet without arm floats.
From this gaggle of slower than geese rookies I am always surprised by the athletic talent they have. Over the course of the season the transformation can be dramatic.
Three freshmen, a junior and a senior particularly stood out this year among my first year swimmers. Freshmen Kim Baxter (Clinton), Kameron Turlington (Clinton) and Lela Hayes (Midway) plus junior Michaela Oates (Hobbton) started out better than most. Each could swim without dying but could barely get 50 yards (two lengths of the pool) completed in less than 2 minutes time. By the end of the season all three were scoring points in buckets for their respective teams and will be major contributors to their schools in the future years.
Union High School chartered their first swim team in history this year. Freshmen Hope Cottle, Skye Page and Matthew Millen learned all four strokes within a few weeks and by the end of the season managed to score points against the established Clinton and Midway teams. There are some schools in the east region that can’t claim that ability.
Of the rookies the most memorable swimmer will be Union High School senior Isaias Campos. Isaias was one of Union’s most deadly soccer players and a fierce competitor at all levels. Although he can bench press over 250 pounds his swimming initially rivaled a 50 pound dumbbell. Like many underprivileged students Isaias did not come from a family that could afford trips to the beach or a membership at a summer pool club. Unlike most people, Isaias exemplifies the persona of man who won’t quit. He was the last of the new swimmers to finally swim 50 yards in competition. It took him a month and a half to learn how to swim. His first 50 yard freestyle took him 48.55 seconds (compared to Clinton Senior Freddy Bath’s 21.97). The last five yards of that race was so grueling for him I felt like I had qualified for Medicare when he finished. However, the moment he finished my tear ducts became overactive with pride. It is the moment I wait for every year that pulls me back to coach year after year.
(Editor’s note: Coach Yang is the head coach for all the Sampson County high schools with swim teams: Clinton, Midway, Hobbton and Union.)