The concept of adding the sport originated two or three years ago with Rusty Allen, Tabor’s vice president of athletics.
“The things that led me to think seriously about it, and then help build consensus on campus to think seriously about it, were the NAIA sponsors (swimming) as a championship sport, a growing number of high schools in the state of Kansas have swimming as a competitive sport, and at the 5- and 6-A level, there are a significant number who have it.”
Allen also mentioned the popularity of summer club swimming, even in Marion County.
Another motivating factor was the possibility of increased enrollment for the college.
“Whenever we add sports, if we’re able to be successful with them, they help grow our enrollment,” he said. “That’s always a consideration at Tabor, what can we do to help grow the enrollment.”
Research and planning
After researching the numbers, Allen said he proposed the idea to President Jules Glanzer, who liked it.
“We talked about it at the executive team level here within administration at the college,” Allen said. “It seemed like there was some momentum for it, so in the spring of 2012, we asked our board of directors for permission to seriously explore the idea, and they said yes.”
Allen made a formal proposal to the executive team in late fall of last year. With positive feedback from the college administrators, the board of directors voted on the item this past spring.
“They basically approved adding swimming when the administration felt we were ready,” he said.
Being ready involved two primary considerations, Allen said.
One includes funding, personnel and recruiting plans, and the second, a facility.
“We had to negotiate an agreement with the Marion school district to use their facility because we don’t have an indoor facility in Hillsboro,” Allen said. “We have a nice outdoor facility, but that wouldn’t work (for a college program).”
Although details are still to be finalized, Allen said last week he and USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker reached an agreement about use of the Marion Sports and Aquatic Center.
“The Marion school system, and especially the superintendent, have just been fantastic to work with,” Allen said. “They’re really progressive in their mindset. I can see both communities benefitting from this, and certainly Marion sees it as a benefit.”
If all goes as planned, the details should be settled by next month. The proposal will be on the agenda of the Sept. 9 USD 408 board meeting.
Leiker is optimistic an agreement can be reached.
“We’ve got to get it to our board to finalize, but as I visited with our board, it was a positive thing,” he said. “If we can create a partnership that’s a benefit in our district or in our county, we always like to do those. So when we can create those partnerships that people benefit from, we’re always excited about doing that.”
The projected partnership is not without its challenges, however.
“We have established some great programs in our aquatic center for not only our school through our P.E. program but also for our public with aerobics and lap swimming and those kind of programs that we certainly don’t want to step on the toes of those,” Leiker said. “One of our challenges will continue to be finding an available time that is conducive to both parties.
“That’s the one thing I want our patrons and school people here to understand—we’re not going to give up on any of the programs we’ve developed here that we feel are very beneficial to our public or our students, but I think we can work that out.”
Leiker listed benefits of a partnership as finding additional uses for the Sports and Aquatic Center and the creation of another outlet for partnership between K-12 education and higher education.
Pending finalization, Allen said Tabor will move forward in planning the new program.
“We hope that’ll be finalized in September, but we’re confident enough that we are going to be able to make it work that we’re going to go ahead this week and start advertising for a head coach,” he said.
The hope is to have the coach in place by mid to late October.
Competitive swimming is a winter sport with a season length similar to basketball.
Few area programs
No other Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference school has a competitive swimming program at this point.
“In fact, there’s only one other school in the whole state that has a collegiate swim team, and that’s the women’s team at the University of Kansas,” Allen said.
As far as competition, without other close programs, Tabor will be required to travel to surrounding states, but will also seek to host one or two small competitions, Allen said.
“Swim meets are typically on the weekend and they’re in tournament format, meaning you bring multiple schools together to one location, and so that’s a little bit different than your team sport schedules,” Allen said.
“For swimming, we may have to travel a little further, but there aren’t near as many actual dates (of competition), so it’s very doable. We’ve proven that it’s doable with our bowling team.”
Allen said adding the swimming program will bring more diversity to the student body.
“Every activity that people have passion for comes with its own culture, and that culture has some diversity built into it, and so we think we’ll get a culture of swimming,” he said.
“We’ll bring an element of diversity to our student body that’s healthy. We think we can find good students who are good athletes.”
Allen added: “Any time if you’re able to do something with excellence, it helps the reputation of your school, and so if our reputation precedes us, it just allows us to make good and deliver to more people on our mission and vision and values.”
Tabor will seek to draw in athletes across the state who otherwise may not have had opportunity to compete at the next level, he said.
Allen said 12 to 15 athletes would be a successful start for the first year; he eventually would like to see the program grow to 30 student-athletes.
“Growth is healthy, so you’re always considering, ‘Well, how do we grow?’” he said. “You grow in numbers, you grow in quality of people, you grow in diversity. All those things are important to make sure that you pay attention to.”