It’s always been a challenge for Hammond High to field a swimming team that can compete with suburban powers, but that hasn’t deterred longtime coach Sue Mathewson.
What has slowed the Wildcats (0-3) this season has been an empty pool, closed to repairs. They have to hop on a bus every afternoon to nearby Gavit for practice.
“I know the School City of Hammond is doing a great job,” Mathewson said. “It’s very expensive to run a swimming program. A lot of our schools are old.”
A part in a motor that warms the pool broke, and the motor is so old that the part is no longer made. The administration found a company in Hammond that can make the part, but it’s unknown how soon the repairs will be finished and the pool reopened.
“They’re working on it,” said Mathewson, who’s in her 17th season as coach of the Wildcats. “You just have to be flexible and go with the flow.”
The daily trek to Gavit hasn’t affected the core swimmers, but it has hurt the team’s numbers. Hammond has nine or 10 girls on the team and 14 for both boys and girls.
“If we had our own pool, we’d have a lot more,” said senior Taz Dixon, the girls team captain. “Some of the parents didn’t realize the situation.”
Dixon said some students are needed to babysit at home, and there was concern from parents on how their children would get home after returning from Gavit.
“It was tough at first,” said Dixon, who talked a few of her teammates into staying on the squad at the start of the season. “We kind of got used to it. Gavit has become our home pool now.”
The Wildcats and Gladiators each use three lanes during practice, and the swimmers have gotten to know each other pretty well.
“Basically we’re friends now that we’re swimming in the same place,” said Dixon, who’s in her third year of competitive swimming. “They understand our situation. We’re all friends and competitors as well.”
Dixon said Mathewson is part of the reason she stayed with swimming after taking up the sport as a sophomore to stay in shape for track season.
“She doesn’t have any negative energy,” Dixon said. “She always has a positive vibe. She’s always pushes us to do better when we don’t do well. She talks us through the events and understands our situation.
“There’s never a negative moment with Miss Matt. She always has a smile on her face.”
It’s successes like Dixon that keeps Mathewson going.
“We’re never going to be a Munster or Crown Point, but the kids get the experience to be on a swim team,” she said. “In an urban area, we’re lucky to have had a swimming program the number of years we’ve had it.”
Mathewson is hoping the pool can reopened by the end of the season for her seniors. If not, then certainly in time for the popular middle school program that starts in March.
“I do appreciate what the School City of Hammond has done to keep it going,” she said. “They know it’s for the kids.”