ST. JOHN | Taking a final dip into Lake Central's soon-to-be drained and demolished swimming pool brought back some fond holiday memories for Mike Carlson.
"Yeah, I just loved the three-a-days (coach Jim Tonkovich) used to hold during Christmas break," Carlson said. "They were fun, him throwing a bunch of kickboards at us in the water and telling us to get moving.
They must have been for Carlson, because when he found out about the "retirement pool party" for the 37-year-old watering hole that would feature a semi-competitive alumni meet, he made some drastic lifestyle changes to get ready.
"Eight weeks ago, I quit smoking," said Carlson, a 1987 Lake Central graduate. "I joined a senior swim program (at Munster), and I managed to lose 30 pounds.
"After I left high school, I joined the Navy. When I came home, I got married and raised a family. Naturally, I got away from (swimming). Now, I feel like getting back into it."
He's not the only one.
"That's the feeling of some people here ... me included," said Adam Peters, who — with fellow 1993 graduate Cindy Turnquist — organized the retirement pool party/meet held Dec. 28. "I, like most of the people here, haven't swam competitively for many years. But I can't say I didn't miss it and the camaraderie that went with it."
The event attracted 75 swimmers and nearly twice as many spectators.
"We didn't expect this type of response," said Turnquist, who also swam in the meet. "We just thought this would be an appropriate way to say goodbye to something that affected so many of our lives."
Aside from the pool hosting its final event, history was made that day.
"I finally was able to whip his (butt)," said Mike Blaze, captain of L.C.'s 1987 state championship team, in reference to beating 1986 high school All-American Jeff Kilinski in the 50 freestyle.
"I let him win," said Kilinski, who is the head coach of the Lake Central Barracudas Swim Club and Lake Central's boys varsity team.
"We just moved into the new pool," Kilinski said of school's Olympic-size 10-laner. "It's similar to some of the new pools around here, but better."
Kilinski's son, Ryan, and Blaze's son, Colin, are both freshman on Lake Central's boys team.
"I grew up in this pool; my children grew up in this pool ... there are a lot of great memories here," Kilinski said. "But moving to (the other side of the school where the new pool is located) can only help our program."
"It's definitely going to add to the quality of student life here at the school," said Lake Central principal Robin Tobias, who was a star swimmer for the Indians before graduating in 1994. "I'm happy that the school referendum passed allowing us to go forward with the construction.
"It's important to have a good up-to-date swim program. Not only is it a great sport, learning it can save your life."
Though giving the old pool a farewell toast was the primary reason for the gathering, many of the former swimmers were happy to reconnect with their old coach -- Indiana Swimming and Diving Hall of Famer Tonkovich.
"(The old pool) was sinking every year and the bottom was cracking," said Tonkovich, who coached Lake Central to its state championship as well as two state runner-up finishes. He also coached four high school All-Americans, including Lake Central girls varsity coach Todd Smolinski, who was an NCAA All-American and Big Ten Swimmer of the Year for the University of Minnesota.
Tonkovich retired from coaching 10 years ago, though still teaches at the school.
"It was time for me to move on," said Tonkovich, who managed to stay dry throughout the day despite the threat of being thrown in the pool with his clothes on for an in-water alumni group photo.
"You can't hold on to things forever."