For more than a decade and a half, there had been talks in some form and fashion about adding a boys swimming program to the wide array of sports at Garden City High School.
When Drew Thon became the athletic director at GCHS in 2016, the discussion to make that sport the 21st varsity program was re-started.
On Monday, the USD 457 school board approved adding the program, and also decided to have the program start with the 2017-18 season.
Boys swimming will be a winter sport, adding to the boys and girls basketball teams, wrestling and boys and girls bowling to occupy the middle part of the school calendar.
Girls swimming, which has been in existence for many years, is a spring sport, beginning in March and finishing in May.
“The idea of boys swimming has been mulling around for 15 years, off and on, off and on,” Thon said in a Tuesday interview. “There was a big push in 2003, but it just didn’t make any headway.”
Another push was made to add the program in the 2010-11 school year, but once again there was not sufficient support to add the sport.
Thon said the recent growth of summer swimming in Garden City and the surrounding communities increased interest for the sport to be added.
“There was a period of time where summer swimming was not very big, but that’s changed in the last five to six years,” Thon said.
In recent months, Thon and girls swimming coach Jennifer Meng (who won’t be the boys coach), sought input from the students by using Twitter and other social media platforms to survey students.
“We talked to a lot of kids to gauge their interest, and then if we had the program, would they participate,” Thon said. “We need 15 solid kids to be on the roster, and then fill in through fringe students who may never have competed in swimming, but would try.”
Thon lauded the YMCA summer program, along with a few others, for generating growth in swimming in the community.
“They’ve played a prominent role of growing interest in the sport,” Thon said.
Thon said that when polling the students, most of them are participating in some activities, but not in a current winter sport — basketball, wrestling, bowling.
“In essence, we’re creating a sport that gives more kids a chance to participate and compete,” he said. “And it won’t cut into the other sports. We’re hoping to have between 17 to 25 kids in the program this first year.”
One more reason for a push now to add boys swimming came from the rest of the Western Athletic Conference. Dodge City and Liberal added the sport a year ago, joining programs already established at Hays and Great Bend.
Currently, Hays and Great Bend are the only schools with facilities that can host a meet, as will Garden City, which has access to the Garden City Family YMCA pool, also used by the girls program.
“There are 32 Class 6A schools, and until now there were 30 of them with boys swimming,” Thon said. “We now make it 31. We’ve always prided ourselves on being at the forefront of activities, so this gets us into that place.”
The new sport will begin its preseason practices on Nov. 13, the same day for basketball and wrestling. The state swim meet will be held in mid-February, with qualifying coming from meeting a set of timing standards during the regular season.
Thon said he is working on putting a schedule together, and hopes to have it completed within the next couple of weeks. He also hopes to have the coaching and assisting coaching positions posted within the next couple of days.
His plan would be to have a coach and assistant decided in early October and then present the recommendations to the school board on Oct. 9 at its monthly meeting.
Thon also said the budget for the boys program will mirror the girls, that being in the amount of $11,668. That will cover the salaries of the head and assistant coaches, transportation and equipment. The GCHS booster club will help defray costs for meals when the team travels.
“We’ve gotta hit a home run with the hire (for coach),” Thon said. “We’ve got some great coaches here at the school, and want to continue to add in quality people and quality coaches.”
Area swim note: Holcomb High School also recently added (girls) swimming to its program offerings, according to athletic director Jerry Johnson.
More information will be available soon, Johnson said recently, once the school has hired a coach and then plan for when the program will start.