“Since I’ve been with the program starting in 2001, we’ve won it every year,” said Rob Harrington, The College of Wooster’s women’s and men’s head coach who is part of the Wooster Whales’ coaching staff. “I don’t know how many years we won meets before then, but we’ve won it every year I’ve been a part of the program.”
Fellow coach Chris Matthew had a partial answer.
“I’ve been here 18 years and we’ve never lost it,” said Matthew, who is the head girls swim coach at Wooster High.
The final, although unofficial, answer then deferred to former head coach Larry Smucker.
“Firestone won the title in around 1992 or ’93 and we’ve won it ever since, so it’s around 20 years,” said Smucker from his home in Florida, where he continues to recover nicely from brain surgery. He plans to return to Wooster for a visit August 22. “Over 40 years, we’ve only lost it twice.”
The Whales piled up a combined 1,502 points to push past Green (1,197) and was well in front of third-place Meyers Lake (779.5) in the nine-team chase for the team title. On the girls side, Wooster (771) topped Meyers Lake (628.5) and Green (607), while the local boys finished with 731 points to top Green (590) and Race (367).
“I attribute the success to a great facility. … Freedlander Park is 45 years old and it was a great gift to the city when the Freedlander family built the park,” said Smucker. “One of the great challenges will be keeping the facilities and all the equipment up … but teams love to come down here. I can’t say enough of what that park means to Wooster and northeast Ohio.
“It’s one of the few outdoor meets teams get to go to. Freedlander is special and we do special things to make people feel welcome. One family said they look forward to coming here and getting a Troyer’s pie, and that’s something you can’t do in Akron. In the summer, sitting in a building watching swimming isn’t what I call my most favorite thing to do. I love being outdoors teaching and coaching.”
The Whales took advantage of their home pool, especially in the younger age groups, noted Harrington.
“For sure, I’d say on women’s side the big point-scoring group was the 8-under girls,” he said. “On the men’s side, I’d say the 11-12 boys picked us up the most points and a close second was the 8-under boys. We’re very strong in 12-and-under age groups on both sides of the team. As they start to get older, the herd starts to thin. We lose high school kids to a variety of reasons. Some get more serious and swim year-round, some decide to take summers off and some just lose some interest.
“I’d say the reason we’re so successful is because we are so deep in those younger age groups. With the 8-u girls, 50 percent of the top 12 scores in every event I’d say was a Wooster kid, if not more. I think it bodes well for the future if we can continue to keep kids interested and motivated and excited about swimming.”
Harrington’s focus wasn’t just winning the MOSL, but seeing how much improvement was made over the season.
“We have sheets that show how much the kids improved from the start to the end of the year,” said Harrington. “There were quite a few who did really, really well. Sophia Davis crushed the 100 breaststroke record (13-14), which had stood for 20 years. Across the board we had some really good swims at pretty much every age group. In the 8-u girls Emma Chelf dropped a significant amount of time from the beginning of the year and for the 11-12 boys, Andrew Cochran dropped quite a bit of time.”
And while the titles have come in yearly fashion for the Whales, this one is certainly special.
“I think it is important for our community to know our program survived,” said Harrington, after Smucker’s surgery forced him to step down last October. “Larry laid a very good foundation for success. We put our own spin on it to make it our program for the coaches who are now coaching. I think that is important for our community to see that this program, which had so much success, continues to have success and be something our community can be proud of.
“I think Larry knew his time was coming and he worked very hard over the past 10 years or so to put in coaches he knew were going to be in the community and stick with it. He brought me on board and Chris has been doing it for some time. It wasn’t just bringing on a high school or college kid who would be here one or two seasons. He tried to bring coaches on who would be in the community and truly care about the future of the program.
“I give a lot of credit to our parents’ board. They are doing it for their kids and they put in a lot of time and effort – unpaid time and effort – keeping the program alive. They put on an excellent Freedlander meet and made my life easier. I was worried. Larry, he did so much ... That’s not to take anything away from past boards, but I made it clear when I started I was not doing it by myself. They knew they needed to step up and be involved, and they did not fail. They stepped up big time for the entire program.”
Published: August 2, 2012