In Zach DeWitt’s office hangs a banner honoring Reggie Miller’s retirement from professional basketball.
Nine years have passed since Miller deposited his last 3-pointer. However, what the Indiana Pacers’ all-time leading scorer represents athletically remains very real to Franklin’s girls and boys swim coach.
“Reggie Miller in my opinion was one of the most clutch performers,” DeWitt said. “He just seemed to own the moment. Some people are predestined to be big in the biggest moments.”
One of DeWitt’s biggest occurred August 2012 when he accepted the job at Franklin.
Only 23 at the time, the doors to potential criticism swung open.
A. Too young. B. Risky hire. C. In over his head having never before been a varsity coach.
Or ... D. None of the above. Born in Franklin and raised in Martinsville, DeWitt has proved these first two seasons to be the ideal successor to coach Brett Findley.
DeWitt at 25 is young enough to relate to the teens he coaches and old enough to be viewed as an authority figure.
The results — back-to-back boys Johnson County Meet and sectional titles — speak for themselves.
“The two things I’ve always said you need to be successful are passion and wanting to continue to learn,” said Findley, who moved on to become assistant principal at Northside Middle School in Columbus after coaching at Franklin from 2006-12.
“Zach has the passion. It’s obvious the way he acts on the pool deck. And I know he continues to learn. When Franklin picked him I thought it was the perfect replacement. Zach had the energy and passion to take the program further than I had, and he has.”
Anticipate DeWitt being in whirling dervish mode this evening and most of Saturday.
His seventh-ranked Grizzly Cubs are seeking top 10 status at the IHSAA Boys Swimming and Diving State Finals at the IUPUI Natatorium after finishing 13th in the team standings a year ago.
“We could go as high as fifth or as low as 12th,” DeWitt said.
Franklin is coming off a dominant performance in which it racked up 473.5 points to capture its own sectional.
Longtime sectional kingpin Center Grove finished a distant second with 354.5 points. In 2013 the Cubs claimed the program’s first sectional over the Trojans, 430.5 to 427.5, to snap Center Grove’s string of 27 consecutive straight dating back to the 1985-86 season.
The Grizzly Cubs’ rise under DeWitt has some speculating whether the torch, in a sense, has been passed. Or has a second torch been lit?
Whatever the case, DeWitt continues to throw every ounce of energy into making Franklin swimming a force now and for years to come.
“I am a pretty big advocate of one phrase — hard work pays,” he said. “I was willing to put in more hours than anyone else. I can’t tell you a game plan or road map at the time I started, but I had the confidence to get the job done.”
The only reason DeWitt began surrounding himself with water in the first place as a Martinsville eighth-grader was to stay in shape for football season.
“At that point I thought I might have a future in swimming. I ended up getting three school records that were all broken this year,” DeWitt said.
While attending Indiana University, DeWitt remained close to the Artesians’ swim program as an assistant coach. He also served as middle school coach and is credited with creating Martinsville’s first-ever swim club.
Having graduated from high school only eight years ago, the coach knows youth works in his favor.
As an example, swimmers and divers in Franklin’s boys program have a tradition of shaving their heads prior to sectionals. They tried to sway their coach, but no go.
DeWitt wasn’t about to peroxide his hair, much less get it buzzed. He did join in, however, adding his own twist by dying blond the reddish-colored beard he had spent all season growing (it’s since been shaved).
“Being young does help me relate to them, and because I relate to them maybe they swim a little harder for me,” DeWitt said. “More than anything I really enjoy being on the journey with these kids.”
DeWitt credits his parents, Chuck and Cathy, for his work ethic whether regardless of whether he’s encouraging his swimmers or teaching high school Spanish.
That combination in itself makes DeWitt something of a rarity.
“Both my parents are hardworking people. I think I was able to develop that through them,” said DeWitt, whose younger sister, Ali, is an assistant swim coach both at IU and Martinsville High School.
“My sisters and I are fortunate to have about as great of a mom as you can have. Her passion was raising three great kids, and my dad and I are very close, too.”
Asked if he’s ever been presented the opportunity to meet his boyhood sports idol, DeWitt tells the tale of how Miller once visited his fifth-grade class at Centerton Elementary School in Martinsville.
A male classmate of DeWitt’s battling leukemia let it be known he wanted to meet Miller. Not only did No. 31 show up, he read a book to the class with DeWitt seated next to him.
Fast-forward to today, and Franklin’s 400 relay team takes a No. 5 seed into this weekend; junior Adam Destrampe is seeded second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 free, while Clayton Culp is the No. 10 seed in the 100 freestyle.
It’s a golden opportunity for the Grizzly Cubs to be clutch for their young coach.
To produce their own Miller Time.