As you walk into the Triangle Aquatics Center (TAC) in Cary, there is an immediate sense that you have reached the pinnacle in high school swimming. Sampson County swimmers train in a six lane 25 x 18 yard pool at The Center for Health in Wellness in Clinton (TCHW). It’s a terrific pool for a small town of 10,000 people, however it can’t compare to the TAC. Just as the population of Cary is 13.6 times larger at 136,000 people, the TAC is enormous with three pools — one 8 lane Olympic pool 55 x 24 yards; another oversized 10 lane training pool 25 x 25 yards; and yet one more warm water aerobics pool that is 25 x 16 yards.
Walking onto the competition pool deck creates similar championship feelings the rural Indiana basketball team had as portrayed in the movie Hoosiers. It can be intimidating. The spectator seating capacity is 600. There is electronic timing system. Display boards used in the Olympics. Wifi is available with instantaneous results posted after competition. Everywhere you turn there are ripped muscular swimmers with clean shaven bodies for racing. While 200 elite swimmers are warming up you see packed training pools with 200 plus youth swimmers ages 6-12 who have already swam a mile or two before the high school athletes had even arrived . Time Warner Cable cameras surround the pool to broadcasts the races live. Collegiate scouts text away on smartphones in the stands during competition.
Chlorinated gas pierces the air. Pungent to the uninitiated, the acrid scent energizes the elite swimmer. The main Olympic pool is fast. It is 7 feet deep. There are high tech lane lines that reduce turbulence between competitors to reduce waves for faster speeds. The gutter design prevents rebounding waves off the wall that might slow a swimmer down.
The small town swimmer trains at best one to two hours a day five days a week if the swimmer is a member of the USA Swimming team run by Dameon Jones, the aquatics director at TCHW. Clinton and Midway High School swimmers might swim one hour daily if their school schedule doesn’t overlap into the limited pool time available to them. Many of Clinton, Midway and Hobbton high school rookie swimmers are unable to swim their first day in practice.
Opposing the rural swimmer are USA club swimmers from big city programs who often start competing at age 6. Professional coaches run practices 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, and double sessions during vacations and summers. It is common for these swimmers to log in 6 miles or more a day in the water.
Clinton and Midway do not flinch. They do not choke. Once again they impress. Small town athletes with big time swim results, especially from junior sprinter Fredrick Bath. Freddy swam briefly in England as a young lad prior to relocating to Clinton. Initially a JV soccer player for Clinton High School, he returned to competitive swimming as a freshman. Seeing his potential he joined the USA swimming program with Coach Jones. His reward for his hard work is one of the top 5 fastest 50 yard freestyle times in the state. Seeded 6th in the championship heat Freddy was in one of the traditionally slower outer lanes. A terrific start launched him at pace with taller swimmers entering the water. Generating an outboard motor wake he stuck with the best in the state tying for fourth overall with a time of 22.62 seconds. This is now the highest individual finish in the history of all Sampson County Schools for this event.
The rest of the Clinton and Midway state team swimmers can all claim to be among the best swimmers in the state boasting the following finishes:
Top 10 in the state
Daniel Core (Sr. cpt. Midway High School) 10th overall – 200 yard breaststroke (1:05.12)
Top 16 in the state
Clinton Women’s 200 yard Freestyle Relay 16th overall: Elizabeth Tsao, Grace Reagan (So.), Gracin Palmer, Lillie Turlington
Elizabeth Tsao (Clinton) 16th – 50 yard freestyle (time 27.43)
Top 25 in the state
Clinton High School Women’s 200 yard Medley Relay 23rd overall: Elizabeth Tsao (So.) – backstroke, Lexi Valenti (Sr. cpt.) – breaststroke, Lillie Turlington (Jr. cpt.) – butterfly, Gracin Palmer (So.) - freestyle
Clinton Men’s 200 yard Medley Relay 23rd overall: Casey Yang (Sr. cpt.) - backstroke, Weston Locklear (Sr.) – breaststroke, Aaron Viser (So.) – butterfly, Freddy Bath (Jr.) – freestyle.
Clinton Men’s 200 yard Freestyle Relay 21st overall: Casey Yang, Alex Purcell (Jr.), Brennan Masterson (Jr.), Freddy Bath
Freddy Bath (Clinton) 21st – 100 yard freestyle (time 52.62)