Organizers hope to raise money this weekend to upgrade Calumet High School's swim program as the team has blossomed.
But the first decade of the new millennium was not kind to the Calumet High School swimming program.
The numbers dwindled for the boys and girls programs, to the point in which there were only two or three swimmers in a given year. It got bad enough that in 2010 athletic director Ralph Mundt thought about the unthinkable — shutting the program down.
Before becoming AD at Calumet, Mundt had been the swim coach at Portage for 30 years. The idea of closing down a swim program cut at the very fabric of his background and beliefs.
But, as often is the case, the sky was darkest just before the dawn.
The dawning of a new chapter in Calumet's swimming program began in May 2010.
Rob and Annmarie Keene attended an academic function at the school, where they heard about the potential closing. The news hit close to home for them. Rob swam four years at Calumet (1994-97) while Annmarie swam at rival Griffith. Both were lifeguards at Calumet for the swim club program during those years.
"It's where we met and became who we would be," Annmarie said. "The thought of closing the program was a tragedy we weren't ready for."
So they did what swimmers do — they got in the water and got to work.
They worked out a contractual agreement with Mundt. Annmarie would serve as the head coach for both boys and girls, and Rob would be her assistant. And they began the long road back.
"We started by gutting and cleaning the pool and the poolside," Annmarie said. "We wanted to make it as presentable as possible so we could attract kids to the program."
They distributed flyers around the high school and spread the word. Recruiting became a second job for both of them.
The results exceeded their expectations.
Raising the bar
"We started out with 19 boys and girls," Annmarie said. "We thought that was a great start."
The Keenes decided they were going to run the program right, the way they learned when they cut their teeth in high school years before.
The bar was raised. An athlete needed a 2.0 GPA to participate in sports. The Keenes demanded their swimmers show them A's and B's. Swimmers' behavior in and out of school had to be near-perfect. Requirements for a varsity letter were tougher than other sports.
"We want them to understand they are more than student-athletes," Annmarie said. "They are swimmers, and swimmers answer to a higher standard."
Thirteen of the 19 made it to sectionals. Five earned a letter. And one, Kayla Kronland, broke a school record in the girls 100 breaststroke (1:22).
"We were, and are, a swim team," Annmarie said.
Raising the stakes
Determination and true grit only will go so far. The program needs equipment, which means it need funds.
"We do not get enough from the school to rebuild," Annmarie said. "Our expenses far exceed our revenues."
Saturday night, the swim team will host the inaugural Calumet Alumni Swim Invite. The Keenes have contacted as many former swimmers as possible, inviting them back to participate in their events. There will be a 50-50 raffle and concessions, and all proceeds will go toward expanding the timing computer.
The program has a new timing computer, but it is only active for one lane. The goal is to get six lanes up and running this season. If there are enough funds, they will buy warm-ups for the swimmers.
More than a dozen former swimmers have signed up to participate, with another dozen planning on attending. All other former athletes and students are invited to attend.
They will raise memories as well as funds.
"Swimming at Calumet taught me that hard work and dedication pay off," said Scott Majors, class of 1998. "It taught me self-discipline."
A sense of passion and dedication is what Matt Ireland (class of 1999) remembers from his years.
"Swimming made me understand what it meant to set goals and achieve them," Ireland said.
Mundt is glad for the day the Keenes showed up in his office.
"I am very pleased with what Annemarie and Rob are accomplishing with the swim program," Mundt said. "They are generating enthusiasm amongst the team members and working hard on building a program we at Calumet High School can be proud of."