MONTGOMERY, Ala. – More and more student-athletes are joining the 128 high school varsity girls’ and boys’ swim teams in Alabama. And, those Alabama High School Athletic Association swimmers are finding success beyond the confines of the pools in this state.
Wade Thaxton, swimming and diving coach at Bob Jones High School in Madison, said, “The state of swimming in Alabama is as good as it’s ever been. We are seeing more and more kids take it to college, it’s a good avenue for scholarships.”
Thaxton, who was an assistant for two boys’ state titles at Bob Jones and has been head coach for the past four years, said he was thrilled with the spirit his swimmers bring to the pool. “With high school swimming, it’s all about the team,” he said. “I asked my kids what was different between their summer league teams and our team and they told me, ‘We are together. We do things together besides what we do at the pool.’ One of my swimmers told me, ‘It is all about the school spirit, not just about yourself.’
“To see them celebrate with each other and the parents taking pictures, not of their swimmer in the pool but the team on the sidelines, that is really something that stands out.”
According to the latest reports, 72 AHSAA schools offer varsity girls’ swimming and 56 field boys’ teams. The 716 boys’ varsity swimmers is an 11.5 percent increase over the 2016-17 academic year. Girls’ participation jumped 3.8 percent to a total of 844 swimmers.
The Bob Jones swim teams do agility and weight training along with their work in the pool – which is at a local recreation center, since none of the Madison City Schools System teams have pools at school. “We practice five days a week, about 2½ hours a day,” Thaxton said. “Some of our kids also swim on their own, too. Sometimes in practice, I just want them to do sets for speed – ‘OK, just go as fast as you can on this, just get there.’ Other times, I ask them to go 60-70 percent so we can work on technique. They need individual instruction to know what they need to work on. It’s about doing every little thing that is going to make their time faster.”
Faster pays off for the high school teams – Bob Jones has won nine boys AHSAA championships, including seven straight in the 2000s, and one girls title in 2007 – and for the individual swimmers. Former Patriots standout Zach Harting, who now swims for the University of Louisville, won a bronze medal this year in the Pan Pacific Championships with a personal best time (1:55.01) after finishing second in the 2018 U.S. National Championships in the 200-meter butterfly.
High school swim season for the AHSAA began with the opening of practice on Aug. 6 with the first contests on Aug. 23. The sectional meets – in Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile – are Nov. 16-17 with the State Meet set for Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at Auburn University.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association, founded in 1921, is a private agency organized by its member schools to control and promote their athletic programs. The purpose of the AHSAA is to regulate, coordinate and promote the interscholastic athletic programs among its member schools, which include public, private and parochial institutions.