By Andrew Leishman
It has been said by many that when it comes to athletics, often small schools simply cannot compete with larger ones. However, many people are often wrong.
The nervousness in my stomach slowly builds as the thundering roars and cheers echo throughout my ears, radiating from the wall of boisterous fans that surround the 25-meter pool. This is the moment that we have been working towards all winter. The many rainy afterschool practices and cold tired morning workouts have all been in anticipation of this moment. The familiar piercing blow of the starting whistle sounds as our first swimmer takes the blocks.
As my cross-country coach Dave Fitzpatrick once said, “You’ve made it to the show, and now you have to perform.” Well, the stage was set and the performers were ready to play.
On March 8th, 2017, six members from the Royal St. George’s College swim team took to the blocks to represent their school at OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations), Ontario’s high school provincial championships.
It was a cool wind-chilled morning in the small rundown city of Windsor, Ontario. The boarded up windows, empty display cases, and the familiar FOR LEASE signs that had spread like wildfire through this desolate shell of a city threatened to put a damper on this special day. However, the nervous and excited energy that had been sucked from the surrounding city was now in abundance, emanating from Windsor’s International Aquatic Center.
It all began just one year earlier when RSGC’s Head Boy, Conor Commons, decided to organize a swim team. One of the core characteristics that defines a Georgian is his willingness to help to positively impact those around him. Conor certainly proved this in his efforts to organize and lead one of RSGC’s most successful teams this year.
Conor, who started swimming competitively at age 10, had been trying to organize a team since he enrolled in Grade 9. Over the summer he reached out to Steve Turner, RSGC’s newly appointed Director of Athletics to begin planning.
“Last February, I got in contact with the pool and then talked to Mr. Stevens about the new Athletic Director, who at the time I didn’t know was Mr. Turner,” said Conor.
RSGC does not have a pool on campus and lacks the necessary training facilities to house a swim team. Fortunately, the St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club, located just ten minutes from campus, is attached to a pool. This fifteen-meter hot tub was smaller than the competition size pool and lacked starting blocks. However, it would be perfect for the novice high school swim team.
“We talked about price, price range, and pool availability,” said Conor. “I then forwarded that information to Mr. Turner who was a huge help. In the end, if he had not been there, I don’t think it would have ended up happening.”
Logistically, organizing a swim team without a pool on campus is a struggle. The pool is often booked solid resulting in early morning practices, a turnoff for most adolescent boys.
The team consisted of twelve members and trained twice per week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for one hour. One of Conor’s greatest challenges was his availability.
“I train six days per week, consisting of six to seven swims and three dry-land training sessions,” said Conor.
Despite his training schedule, Conor was able to play an active role in coaching the team from the pool deck. Each practice he would lead the team through a series of “activation” exercises, aimed at preparing the muscles for the workout ahead. From the pool deck, he would then lead the boys through a workout developing both fitness and technique.
Conor was not alone, though; he recruited the help of Greg Seale, the school’s new Media Arts teacher.
In the first week of school, Conor was a leader on the Grade 9 Outdoor Education trip to Camp Arowhon. At the end of trip, the staff and students competed in an echo challenge. One of the activities was a 100-meter freestyle swim race, which is where Connor spotted Mr. Seale.
“Conor came to me and said, “I heard you killed it at the staff thing. Do you want to be a coach?” And I said sure,” said Seale.
Mr. Seale had previous experience with coaching at his former position at the Bishop Strachan School and was familiar with the sport, having competed himself. He was a former backstroke swimmer in high school, competing at OFSAA in Grade 10. It was a perfect match.
The team’s first meet on November 30, 2016, was an unexpected success, with two first and second place finishes in both individual and relay events. It was clear that although the team was small, its talent was deep.
On February 24th, 2017, the team and I competed at CISAA, the school’s regional championships.
It was the calm before the storm as all eight swimmers were poised, ready, and waiting for the gun. The gun sounded, sending all eight swimmers flying off the starting blocks into a ferocious furry of kicking and pulling. It was the final event of the day, the 200-meter relay. It was almost my turn. As I took my place on the starting blocks, all the muscles in my body relaxed in anticipation of the next twenty-nine seconds. My heart quickened in pace as I plunged into the roil and boil of churning pool water. Every muscle in my body felt like rubber as my heart struggled to feed them. Ten meters. Five meters. My index finger jammed as I crashed into the wall tired and out of breath, sending our final swimmer into the water. This final leg would be the one to win us gold and punch our ticket to the upcoming provincial championships.
As a team, we qualified six members to compete at OFSAA. Our relay team placed 10th overall in addition to several other top ten finishes in the individual events.
“I am super impressed with the team’s performance,” said Seale. “I don’t even think you guys realize how well you did. If you noticed, we were with seven other schools on the bus to OFSAA, and only one of those schools made the finals and we had seven top ten finishes with only twelve guys on the team. That’s pretty impressive.”
With just 200 boys enrolled in high school at the College, fielding a team of twelve members was a challenge in itself. To then be able to send more than half of the team to OFSAA was an accomplishment that no one could have predicted. When it comes down to it, success is just the result of nothing more than a lot of really hard, focused work. Each member of the team worked as hard as he could each practice to help one another succeed.
What Royal St. George’s College lacks in size it makes up for in hard work and dedication, which is what allowed this team to achieve the success that it did.