DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
Zach DeWitt has lofty goals and pursues them deliberately.
He is the coach of the Franklin Regional Swim Team, a youth club that already has cracked the top five in statewide club competitions. His mission is to prepare swimmers to achieve success at the state scholastic level and at regional and national levels.
Although he understands competitive ceilings vary for each athlete, DeWitt is determined not to let any swimmers settle for less than what they can accomplish, no matter how high the goal, so long as they have the talent and commitment to pursue it.
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While the IHSAA Boys and Girls State Swimming and Diving Meet is the event most casual observers are familiar with, club swimming spans a broader scope of competition and a wider set of age groups — from swimmers younger than 10 to college ages.
Moreover, high school success often is traced to the success of club feeder programs. Club meets are overseen by USA Swimming, a governing body that sanctions local level events as well as national championships and qualifying races the U.S. Olympic teams.
Those are the goals DeWitt, who’s in his fourth year, and his coaching staff talk about as they work to build their club.
Thirty-four swimmers qualified for the March 20-22 Indiana Age Group Championships at the IUPUI Natatorium, and several others have qualified for summer competitions that will include swimmers from 15 states.
DeWitt, who also is head coach of Franklin Community High School’s boys and girls varsity teams, is attempting to model the club team after the Carmel Swim Club, which has produced multiple national champions and sent dozens of future IHSAA state champions to Carmel High School.
DeWitt counts Carmel head coach Chris Plumb and his associate Ian Murray as two of his most influential mentors.
“They have a national vision and have compiled some unbelievable results, but they emphasize that you have to take care of the business of competing at the highest level,” DeWitt said. “If you do that, then things like state titles are byproducts.
“While we lack the enrollment and some of the other amenities that Carmel has, that has to be our vision.”
‘An absolute blast’
Although the Franklin club is smaller than Carmel’s, it is growing. The Franklin club has more than 100 members and has the benefit of training at the high school’s state-of-art natatorium, where most of the state qualifiers, ages 14 and younger, gathered for a recent practice.
A large dose of lap repetition mixed laughter and light banter. The boys and girls appeared committed to the work and at the same time seemed to enjoy it.
“That may be my favorite thing about our club,” DeWitt said. “We work really hard, morning and afternoon, but despite that we have an absolute blast.”
Franklin Community Middle School students Ali Terrell, a butterfly and breaststroke specialist, and Jessie Fraley, a backstroke and freestyle racer, embrace the mix of competition and social interaction. It’s what makes the twice-a-day, six-days a week practices enjoyable.
“We don’t really have a lot of time to hang out with our other friends, but we’re with (our teammates) a lot, and we still have a lot of fun,” Terrell said.
Fraley agreed, noting that the club arranges team activities like movies throughout the the year. And her mother, Brandi, like many other youth sports parents, logs a lot of miles and hours supporting her daughter’s pursuits.
But again, the structure and discipline gained through the sport, plus the enjoyment of competing at a high level, make the lifestyle an appealing one for Terrell, rather than a labor. She said the club atmosphere, including the sense of community among the families, is very enjoyable. She also said the high goals set by the club’s coaches are no secret, and that is part of what appeals to families when they decide to join.
In fact, more families are choosing to enter from outside the Franklin community, with some moving into the school district in part because of the swim program.
One of the best examples is eighth-grade standout swimmer Carla Gildersleeve. The Gildersleeve family knew DeWitt from when he coached their sons and daughter at Martinsville, and when he took the job at Franklin, they decided to move to the area.
Carla’s older brother, Jake, is now an assistant coach at the club.
Carla swam at the USA Swimming junior nationals in the winter and already has swum a qualifying time for the summer version of the same event.
DeWitt mentioned Gildersleeve as a possible Olympic hopeful. She has twice won the maximum 12 individual event championships (six winter, six summer) at the state club meet, as well being a regular multiple-event qualifier for the regional (zonal) level.
Gildersleeve is close to qualifying for the nationals in several events.
“I’m working on my weaker strokes and doing better with my nutrition,” she said. “I try to work on those things every day.”
Besides Gildersleeve, DeWitt has high expectations for eighth-grader Jacob Destrampe, younger brother of high school standout Adam Destrampe, who will swim for Indiana University next season.
‘Pretty electric in here’
Jacob DeWitt, who is knocking on the door of qualifying for the junior national meet, also has major college ambitions and credits the club for refining his skills and stoking his enthusiasm.
“It is pretty electric in here,” Destrampe said. “We work together all the time, basically. I get to meet new people every year. When I was 9 or 10, we used four lanes at practice, and now we fill up the whole pool, both sides and every lane.”
Max Kramer is a year younger than Gildersleeve and Destrampe but has qualified multiple times for the regional level meets. He credits DeWitt and fellow coaches Garrett Surface and Alex Jerden with pushing swimmers to become better, noting that proper technique is emphasized over weight training for the young swimmers.
DeWitt said Franklin’s club has finished fifth and fourth in the state in the past two meets (one last March and once in the summer), and he is striving to improve upon that. By contrast, the year before he arrived, there were only a few swimmers even in the state club meet.
Still, he emphasizes that the club is set up for swimmers at all levels, teaching swim lessons for much younger children and water safety in the hopes of providing a competitive outlet for every level of swimmer.
“So many times people look at results, medals, podiums and times; but ultimately we’re offering kids the chance to be a part of something and grow in a positive manner while having fun,” DeWitt said. “My coaches and I will be the first to tell kids and parents that 99 percent of them will not swim as a career, but we want to try to provide as many lifelong opportunities, to learn as many life lessons in a positive culture, as we can.”
ABOUT THE FRANKLIN REGIONAL SWIM TEAM
Who can sign up? Boys and girls in age groups ranging from 5 to college 20, from any school district; club trains at Franklin Community High School.
Coach: Zach DeWitt
Skill levels: The club has opportunities for swimmers of all skill levels, from beginner to elite national; club also offers swim lessons for kids 4 to 10.
Mission statement: “The Franklin Regional Swim Team accepts and understands the concept that many of life’s lessons are learned outside of the classroom. Our club seeks to create an environment that will actively promote characteristics consistent with the club values of sportsmanship, discipline and determination so to empower our youth with the tools necessary to be successful both in swimming and in life.”
Recent highlights: Placed fifth at 2014 Indiana Long Course Age Group Championships; placed eighth at 2014 Indiana Short Course Age Group Championships; placed ninth at 2013 Indiana Long Course Age Group Championships; placed Top 10 at 2013 Indiana Short Course Age Group Championships.
Leading state age-group meet qualifiers from Franklin Regional Swim Team
Name;Age;Number of events