It should come as no surprise that the Mercer Island High School swim teams are title contenders each year. While the girls have been close the past five years, the Islander boys have taken two consecutive state titles. It was recently announced that the team won the national title this year, as well. And while all of this has come under the tutelage of high school swim coach Jeff Lowell, it starts at the club level.
Most kids on the high school swim team walk on to the team with years of experience in various leagues. Many high schools in Washington state struggle to get kids to join swim teams and are extremely lucky when they get a swimmer with experience. When I was going to school in the south end during the mid 1990s, all you needed to be on the swim team was the willingness to wear speedo. Four high schools shared one local pool. But for Mercer Island kids, learning to swim is like learning to ride a bike.
The Midlakes swim league has not only made Mercer Island High School more competitive in recent years, but also many of the high school teams on the Eastside.
“I feel pretty fortunate,” said Mercer Island High School swim coach Jeff Lowell. “A lot of coaches want just one swim club and we have three, plus many other swim programs. It is a huge benefit.”
Midlakes continues to become more and more competitive. The importance of the sport to the clubs is evident in where they put their money as well. Both the Mercer Island Country Club and Beach Clubs have invested in new pools during the past four years. The Country Club’s pool is an eight-lane beauty that all the clubs look forward to visiting. The Mercerwood Shore Club invested in a “bubble” for its pool so that they could accommodate a winter season of swimmers. The year-round trend that most mainstream sports have made nearly mandatory is catching up with swimming.
Many league records are broken each year and the number of kids participating continues to grow. The Mercerwood Shore Club gets most of the ink when it comes to the league and the Island teams competing but the resurgence of the Mercer Island Country Club and the Mercer Island Beach Club in this new, more competitive environment has put a surge into the sport. While it is true that lacrosse continues to grow exponentially each year around the state and on the Island, as far as sheer numbers, swimming is still king. A quote by Mercer Island Country Club coach and Island native, Chris Simpson, earlier this year says it all: “There are nearly 600 kids swimming between the three clubs.” And that is not the end of the swimming on Mercer Island as there are lessons and leagues given at Mary Wayte pool and most kids double up and swim off Island as well.
That is a lot of kids taking swimming very seriously. And it is not just teenagers keeping in shape for high school season. The Midlakes league has kids as young as 6 or 7 years old swimming in a competitive environment. So competitive that those kids finish the season with races at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way in front of nearly 500 cheering spectators. It makes getting to the state finals as a high school athlete, also at the KCAC, kind of ho-hum when you have been doing it for nearly a decade. But the impact of the event on the youngest of competitors is evident by the look on their faces when they first walk into the three-story venue.
Some of the kids at the Beach Club have participated in swimming for more than a decade. Tad Homchick, Grant Garcia and George Stanton have been involved with the club’s swim team for more than half of their lives. Garcia and Homchick are co-head coaches, while Stanton is an assistant. All three, along with assistant coaches Erin Garcia and Rosemarie Boos, do a great job of inspiring, teaching and continuing a tradition. All five swam for the high school team and the Beach Club. They are all in college or headed there. Homchick, Garcia and Stanton say that they have one or two more years together coaching at the Beach Club. The dedication of all three men is not something that is found very often. They have given up their spare summer breaks to help young athletes achieve goals and get a taste of what hard work can bring.
It is fun for me to see many of the kids grow from competing in Midlakes meets on to the high school team, and now, on into college. The dedication and progression of these kids is a fun thing to watch as the years go by. And the hard work by all of these young kids during these lean summer months has paid off for the Mercer Island High School swim team. The bets part is, it is only going to get better.
Matt Phelps is the Mercer Island Reporter sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org