The swimming community’s bond, from the beginning age-group to the Olympic levels, is strong.
When the University of Iowa announced its decision to drop four sports, including men’s and women’s swimming, on Aug. 21 due to COVID-19-related budget shortfalls, reaction was swift. Shock and sadness were the words most used.
Area high school coaches know discontinuing the sport at Iowa will have an impact on prep swimming in the state.
“Although I was surprised to hear the news, it is not something that was shocking,” said Linn-Mar girls’ coach Bobby Kelley. “(The) College Coaches Association has been sending emails to coaches letting us know that any program could get cut. We are going through a pandemic that is causing financial stress everywhere, including with college athletics.”
Iowa’s move leaves the state with two Division I women’s swimming programs (Iowa State and Northern Iowa) and none for the men. The state has produced a number of top-level Division I swimmers from its prep ranks.
“Iowa high school boys can no longer look forward to swimming at the Division I level in Iowa,” said City High girls’ and boys’ Coach Zane Hugo. “Coe College remains an in-state option for those that want to swim and stay in the state, but the Division I level athletes (have no choice) and will leave the state.”
Kelley expects an uptick of Iowa preps opting to swim for other in-state schools.
“I do expect students to consider swimming at other schools in the state,” he said. “UNI and Iowa State will see more in-state students. And the Division III schools such as Coe (where Kelley serves as an assistant coach) also will likely see more students who are interested.”
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Iowa’s decision could have long-lasting effects, according to Cedar Rapids Washington girls’ coach Megan Lewis.
“The biggest thing that I believe it could impact is the push behind swimming statewide,” she said. “(Iowa) is a D-1 school, and now no swimming. That suggests that swimming isn’t important. I think it will eventually pull numbers lower just because it isn’t (seen as) a big important sport.”
Others don’t think the high schools will feel much impact.
“High school sports are about more than just getting recognized by colleges,” said Jefferson girls’ coach Jessica Hinke. “While some elite athletes might be deterred away from high school swimming, I hope that the majority will stay. High school sports, especially swimming are a lot of fun — and that’s the real reason why we swim.”
Iowa City West’s girls’ and boys’ coach Byron Butler agreed.
“I don’t think elite swimmers will look at this decision and choose to avoid (high school) swimming because of it,” he said “High school swimming is different and has its own rewards.”
Former Linn-Mar all-stater Kelsey Drake remembered when she was being recruited by Iowa. Now preparing for her senior year at the school (where, if conditions permit, she will compete in Iowa’s final season), Drake said she feels for those who had already committed to swim at Iowa.
“As a senior in high school I would have been devastated,” she said. “Recruiting has gotten so accelerated that almost all the rosters for next year are set in stone. It would have been very hard to find another program that I felt like I meshed with and who would still have room on their roster to take on another person.”
Former Cedar Rapids Washington prep Cameron Kelley, now a senior swimming at Minnesota, was emotional when discussing the cuts.
“These program cuts hurt so many people both past and present whether they were born and raised as die-hard Hawkeyes or took their careers in other directions,” he said. “The Hawkeyes presented a close-to-home example of what I aspired to be as a young swimmer and now they provide me with some of my greatest competition.”
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Butler believes the community impact of Iowa’s decision has been overlooked, especially when it comes to the development of swim coaches in the state.
“I can think of literally hundreds of people who never would have come to Iowa, or stayed in Iowa, without these programs,” said Butler, who swam collegiately for the Hawkeyes. “The level and average expertise of coaches in the area were enriched by their exposure to these programs.”