A community recreation club and parent sports booster club work together to help a New Jersey high school's swim team enhance its facility and popularity.
When parents of Kittatinny (N.J.) Regional High School student-athletes held their monthly booster club meeting in October 2006, Cougar Club President Anthony Cerbo asked the swim team liaison, Darby Macaulay, one question: What can the club do to help enhance the swim program? Macaulay answered without hesitation: donate money toward the purchase of an electronic pad timing system.
Two months later, volunteers from KRHS's swim team were being trained on how to operate Colorado Timing Systems' underwater Infinity Startera far cry from the stopwatches the group had been using to record heats and other relay races.
The advantages this system offers, are tremendous, says George Soutter, KRHS Head Swim Coach. The primary benefit, of course, is enhanced student-athlete skill development and performance. However, an important secondary benefit is how the timing system is increasing community relations: KRHS's natatorium, which includes a 25-yard pool with six lanes and anti-wave lane lines, is one of only three pools in this north New Jersey area with an electronic timing system that may be used by the public.
To showcase the new timing system, the team hosted its first invitational in January. The experience was rewarding on several accounts: High schools outside of Kittatinny's athletic conference were attracted to the event, thus exposing KRHS student-athletes to different levels of competition; the natatorium proved itself as a viable aquatic facility capable of handling large competitions; and swim meets were generating revenue$1,650 was raised in entry fees and concession sales during the event.
Furthermore, league officials have been so impressed with the system and the attention it's bringing that some have approached KRHS about hosting post-season tournaments and pre-season events. Additionally, the timing system has been an impetus for re-establishing alumni connections and increasing the development of a community recreation swim clubthe Kittatinny Barracudas Swim Teamwho will presumably compete in the sport at KRHS.
The relationship to the Cougar Club and the Barracudas was the key to how the Infinity Starter came about and to the fundraising opportunities it avails the high school. KRHS policy prohibits individual teams from fundraising, so money received from outside donations separate from the school, such as the Cougar Club and Barracudas, are heavily sought. In October 2005, the Barracudaswho use the high school's natatorium for practicesstarted buying the pieces of the equipment that comprise the timing system and donated them to KRHS's swim program. A year later, the Cougar Club gave the swim program a loan to cover the cost of the remaining pieces of the Infinity Starter.
Soutter talks about this process in more detail as well as the integral roles the booster clubs of both the Kittatinny Barracudas and the Cougar Club play in enhancing KRHS's swim program.
FundraisingForSports.com (FFS): What is the relationship between the Kittatinny Barracudas Swim Team and the KRHS swim program?
George Soutter (GS): Our area is fairly rural. We struggled for several years to get enough swimmers out for our high school team. There was little interest within the communities for the sport, and no convenient programs in the area. I realized that without a feeder program, the hopes for building a competitive team were slim. We needed to get the community involved in swimming as a sport for it really to take root.
There was an established summer league in our county (Sussex), the Wallkill Valley Swim Conference, comprising mostly lake community teams and two swim clubs. There was no team for our community, so families interested in being on a team would have to travel to another community, but were often put on waiting lists. I approached the league about letting us put up a team to run out of the pool at Kittatinny. When they agreed, I pitched the idea to our school's administrators and enlisted the help of my assistant coach, Michele Kaminsky, to form our own team.
We signed on as coaches, and to form a not-for-profit organization in New Jersey, we needed a Board of Trustees, so we asked the representatives from our teachers' union to fill in. The Kittatinny Barracudas Swim Team is not affiliated with the high school. We are set up as a separate not-for-profit recreational swimming team. The school has been very supportive by allowing us use of the facility and leasing pool time with lifeguards. Since the beginning (summer 2004) we have grown to about 115 swimmers and introduced a large number of families to the sport.
The Barracudas began to purchase a portion of the Colorado Timing Systems' Infinity Starter, with hopes of buying the complete system in stages. This initial purchase took place in 2005.
FFS: What prompted the Cougar Club to ask about the swim program's needs?
GS: The Cougar Club had a new group of parents who wanted to change the status quo of the organization. It was their belief, and one that was held by many, that the organization had long catered to the big sports at our school. The members expressed that if the booster club could get behind more sports, then maybe even more parents would come out and get involved. This additional support would, in turn, benefit more student-athletes.
The parent of one of my swimmers was at that meeting in October 2006 and became the driving force behind the purchase of the system. He mentioned that the swim team could benefit from some help. He contacted me to see if it was all right for him to ask the Cougar Club to investigate the feasibility of purchasing a timing system.
Knowing the expense of the system and the limited funds of this volunteer organization, I expressed my skepticism. The parent then contacted Colorado Timing Systems for a series of quotes and options, and we both attended their next meeting in November. I explained how this system would benefit my program and how the Kittatinny Barracudas had some funds available and had already purchased the starter portion of the system to donate to the cause.
The Cougar Club stated they had some help to offer, but that they could not foot the entire bill. Michele came up with the idea that the Cougar Club could run a 50-50 raffle that we would ask the swimming parents to support. With the system, we would also be in a position to run an annual invitational to bring in revenue.
As the notion picked up steam, Mr. Macaulay offered a personal donation, and the Cougar Club offered a $6,000 loan of which $3,000 needed to be paid back by the end of February 2007. The balance would then be paid off by February 2008. The motion to accept was made and passed, the system was ordered, and it arrived a short time later. We began using the system immediately, and reached our targeted goals this February. Mr. Macaulay and his wife, Robin, have run the system for all of our meets.
FFS: What was the reaction to the Cougar Club's and the Barracudas' donations?
GS: Everyone was blown away. There had always been an unspoken feeling that the swim team was not of real interest to many in the school community. The simple act of people coming together to make this happen for these kids has invigorated us all. The athletes now have a state-of-the-art facility, host their own invitational meets, have their own parent network to support them, and impress other teams and fans alike.
We hosted our new alumni meet right after the system came in, with more than 50 swimmers participating. Alumni swimmers from as far back as 1988 returned to the blocks to take on our current swim team in a dual meet. The meet was filled with cheers and laughter, and was followed by a cookie social in the pool lobby. Swimmers old and new reminisced and had a wonderful time. The alumni were simply in awe when they saw the pads and asked, "Why didn't we have these then?"
The excitement crescendoed at the invitational when my girls' 200 free relay team broke a school record (set back in 1992) and the girls' team wound up winning the First Place trophy at that meet! Morale is high, and the kids are performing great.
FFS: What are your goals for the swim program, and how is this timing system going to help you achieve them?
GS: Our program was not in good shape. When you have a program that is not very successful, especially over a period of time, a stigma can develop. Incoming swimmers may not be encouraged to come out for the team, or in some cases, they may switch to other schools where the swimming program is perceived to be more successful. Our goal was to create a more successful, competitive team and to try to reverse that downward spiral.
Our plan to accomplish that goal was multifaceted. Michele and I began attending coaching workshops and revisited our technique manuals to hone our knowledge and coaching skills. We modified our practice routines and put more of an emphasis on dry-land training than we had in the past. We developed a sort of PR campaign, talking up even the smallest accomplishments of our swimmers at every opportunity. We also ordered the team new warm-up suits so that they looked sharp at competitions and in their team photos.
One of the most significant changes, though, was the creation of the Barracudas as a feeder program for our team. The parents' organization helped to get more Barracuda parents on board and taught them more about the sport.
Last but not least, we wanted to upgrade our facility as much as we could. We worked for about three years to get a new school record board in the natatorium. When we accomplished that, kids were inspired daily to reach for individual goals. (We mounted it at the end of the pool where the swimmers begin and stop their sets so that it is very visible to them). We always dreamed of having a timing system as part of our facility. This would allow us to easily host invitational styleand even championshipmeets, get accurate times and splits on our swimmers, and afford our program a new found sense of prestige.
FFS: What impact has the timing system had on the swimming community in your area and those teams KRHS competes against?
GS: There are only three pools in the county, only two of which are accessible to the nine high school teams in our league. The teams we swim against are usually thrilled to be competing with the pads. Having accurate times on our swimmers is so very important in our sport. It is also good practice for the all teams to compete with the pads so that they are more used to them and better prepared for their use in the championship style and invitational meets, which is where pads are typically used.
We're planning to make our Skylands Invitational an annual event. There is something about hosting a big meet that makes your whole organization proud. This will also bring in annual revenue, which can be used to go towards training equipment, workshops, maintaining our timing system (repairs down the road, etc.), and teambuilding efforts.
Recently, I was approached by another coach and ex-official from our league about hosting an annual Relay Carnival. There is nothing like that in the area, and it seems like it would offer a lot to the participating teamsespecially if it were held in the beginning of the season. We are exploring this as another optional event. The same coach also approached me to see if we would rent our system for his post-season state meet. I am currently trying to procure parent volunteers to operate the system for those two meets as a fundraiser for our team. We may explore expanding on this idea in the future.
FFS: What will it mean for Kittatinny to host the Sussex County Interscholastic League division championships (a.k.a. SCIL Festival) ?
GS: It goes beyond "home-pool advantage". If we are able to host a 10-team or more invitational effectively and efficiently, I would be interested in approaching the league about alternating the site of our championships between the pool they have always used and ours. The other pool is a great facility, but has its drawbacks. For example, it is a meter pool as opposed to ours, which is yards. The teams that practice in that pool daily have a distinct advantage over the teams that work out in a yards pool all season long because of the additional distance and facility characteristics. Another issue is that the pool is housed in a big dome and the curved ceiling throws off the backstrokers who aren't used to it. There shouldn't be a handicap like that in a championship meet.
FFS: How will money raised during these events be invested back into the swimming program?
GS: All revenue brought in from hosting meets/invitationals will go into the school's Student Activity Fund allocated to the swim team. We intend to support the Cougar Club annually so that others can enjoy the success enjoyed by our program.