Watch a practice and you’ll get an idea of why the Franklin Community High School boys and girls swimming and diving program is rising to statewide prominence.
You’ll see 48 young men and women in a purpose-driven setting. The swimmers and divers are unified by team goals and system, but each is following an individualized training program established by head coach Zach DeWitt, assistant coach Garrett Surface and diving coach Josh Blackwell.
Two scoreboards monitor lap times. The water is cordoned off into three areas. The divers are in the southwest corner of the pool under Blackwell’s tutelage, working on the three springboards.
The sprinters are in the southeast corner with Surface supervising.
They alternate time between leg-strengthening exercises, jumping straight up from the bottom of the pool (to simulate the motion used in turning) and doing squat thrusts while holding a medicine ball.
In a two-lane setting across the center of the pool, two swimmers swim as fast and long as they can while attached with a belt to a weight machine, the resistance serving to increase the power of their strokes. DeWitt explained that the sprinters will alternate with this exercise according to the day of the week.
Finally, the distance, individual medley and stroke specialists take up the northern half of the pool, filling the eight lanes with one, two or three swimmers per lane depending on event specialties. These are the swimmers whom DeWitt was watching most closely on this day.
“I schedule a different practice for everyone depending on their events, so each lane will be doing something slightly different,” the second-year coach said. “It takes a lot more time to plan, particularly on my part, and it’s different than what a lot of other schools do. But it is paying off for them.”
That paying off part is an understatement. The girls’ team is in a rebuilding year but still finished second in both the Johnson County meet and the Mid-State Conference Championship, where Kelsey Harper won the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke.
The boys’ team is now ranked eighth in the state in rankings based on reported times and has been making some championship breakthroughs not recorded since well before this year’s team members were born.
Last season, the Grizzly Cubs broke Center Grove’s 28-year streak of sectional titles.
So far this season, Franklin has won the Mid-State Conference meet and the Johnson County meet (again breaking a long-term title stranglehold by Center Grove in the latter).
Top performers include Adam Destrampe, winner of two individual and two relay titles at the county championship, plus fellow relay team members Dan Rice, Kevin Stahl and Clayton Culp.
Individual, team goals
DeWitt and some of his top swimmers are adamant that success is due to effort and training.
“Competing for a state championship is kind of a unique ordeal. Athletic ability is probably only 30 to 35 percent of what you’re looking at,” DeWitt said. “... Experience is going to be your number one indicator for the majority of state-level athletes. State champions have probably been swimming six to 10 years by the time they reach their senior year, so you don’t stand a chance unless you’ve been disciplined for many, many years, not just one season.”
At Franklin, that discipline includes training four mornings per week, plus five two-hour sessions on weekday afternoons and occasional sessions before the team travels to meets. Depending on their event, Franklin swimmers could traverse 9,000 to 10,000 yards per day in the water.
“One thing coach DeWitt constantly reminds us of every day is that every swim team is the same, and the only thing that makes one different is hard work,” senior Dan Rice said. “He’ll hashtag it on Twitter about how ‘hard work pays,’ or write it in big letters on the board about how hard work overcomes adversity. The atmosphere of greatness comes from the hard work we put in.”
The team also has a regular Monday meeting where DeWitt discusses team goals.
DeWitt said the swim season tends to be divided into three parts — a high-yardage phase, which recently concluded with the conference and county championships; a high-intensity training time, which will last for the next few weeks; and then a “tapering period” when training will be less intense as swimmers rest in order to produce their best times at the all-important IHSAA Sectional and State meets.
DeWitt and his coaches make a point to throw in some light moments during training. During a recent practice, while swimmers took a break, DeWitt shouted across to the pool to one of his sprinters about how a rival swimmer at another pool does his squat exercises faster and with a heavier weight. The remark brought smiles around the pool but still applied the intended motivational sting.
“He knows how the grind can wear you down, so a lot of times he’ll have rewards,” senior Kevin Stahl said. “Like against Martinsville, everyone had goal times they had to hit, and then when they did, we got to play Frisbee for 20 minutes in the morning. After Christmas we had this horrible practice, but at the end they had us play this little game just to help keep us motivated for the rest of the week.”
As the high school practice wound down, middle schools swimmers began filing in along with some members of the community’s club program. DeWitt said that while these swimmers have another pool to train in, he started having them train twice a week at the varsity pool in order to establish continuity through the program.
“A lot of the high-schoolers help coach little kids,” senior Dan Lamm said. “Everyone knows everyone on the entire Franklin swim team, even going down to 10 and under kids. I can tell you who they all are. We’re just one big giant family because only a swimmer understands what a swimmer goes through. You have to stick together.”
So hard work, good communication and togetherness end up being key elements of the Franklin team’s success, but DeWitt is quick to point out that the individuals on the team make the ultimate difference.
“The bottom line is that these kids really like to work hard,” he said. “It’s a rare find to find kids as motivated to work as these kids are. It really helps to have great senior leadership. They help set the tone.
“The bar of expectations was set pretty high by (previous) coach (Brett) Findley, and I’m just trying to further that. Most importantly you have a group of kids who like to work hard and like to be around each other, and I think those are the biggest ingredients for success.”