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August 27, 2014

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the turnaround:

A swim team looks for victories without winning

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Leila Navidi

Sophomore David Hoyos dives during the Chaparral High School swim team practice at the Henderson Multigenerational Center in Henderson on Wednesday, March 28, 2012.

Chaparral High School Swim Team

Sophomore David Hoyos swims during the Chaparral High School swim team practice at  the Henderson Multigenerational Center in Henderson on Wednesday, March 28, 2012. Launch slideshow »

What is a turnaround school?

The Clark County School District implemented the "turnaround" model at five of its worst-performing schools for the 2011-2012 school year. Four of these schools — Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools, and Hancock Elementary School — received a piece of $8.7 million in federal School Improvement Grant money to improve test scores and for the high schools, graduation rates. As part of the turnaround model, the principal and at least half of the staff were replaced at each school, and schools were required to implement new programs and teaching methods to improve student achievement.

When the Chaparral High School boys swimming team steps off the bus for practice at the Henderson Multigenerational Center Outdoor Competition Pool, it hardly registers as a team.

The five relatively inexperienced swimmers — Kai Gunther, Eric Hansen, David Hoyos, Joseph Perez and Aaron Rouse — aren’t enough to log a complete team score. As a result, the Cowboys are all but guaranteed to lose every meet this spring.

But that doesn’t mean the team is giving up or that its season is a bust.

At practice last week, the team occupied the back few lanes of the pool, working on basics. In the lanes next to Chaparral was the swim team of Coronado High, a school in an upscale area of Henderson that has so many swimmers they frequently complain there isn’t enough pool space to properly train.

As Chaparral’s beginners worked on proper stroke, breathing and how to avoid an embarrassing bellyflop when starting a race, Coronado’s more experienced swimmers were refining their honed racing techniques.

On meet days, Chaparral’s disadvantages are more apparent: They technically lose before the meet begins. Coronado typically enters the maximum of four swimmers per event — each athlete is allowed to race in two individual races and two relays. Points are earned for first to eighth place finishes, meaning even if a Chaparral swimmer won a race individually, other schools would still earn more points and a lopsided victory.

“Obviously, with just four or five swimmers, we aren’t going to compete as a team,” coach Wendy Holsclaw said. “Our goal is to get our times down, and every week, they have done just that.”

Virtually all of the Cowboys’ sports teams struggle to fill roster spots, often fielding participants with little experience and without the proper equipment. Some students have difficulties finding $20 for the physical required to join a team, and students whose families don’t have health insurance often can’t scrape together the $67 needed for a sports-only, nine-month policy.

Holsclaw’s search for team members included scouring the ROTC class or asking coaches of other sports to send her players they had cut.

“I was talking to one of the coaches from the other teams and they were complaining about how they have just four lanes for 65 kids,” she said. “I said, ‘I really wish I had your problems. Give me your problem.’ I won’t cut anybody. I will accept anyone who comes out for the team on the day of tryouts.”

Chaparral is one of three low-performing high schools in Clark County to receive federal grant money to improve student achievement. In athletics, the philosophy — at least this year — is that success can’t be measured in wins and losses, but by the friendships made and incremental individual improvements over the course of the season.

Under the watchful eye of Holsclaw, an experienced coach who was at Liberty High School last year, several members on both the boys and girls teams have trimmed seconds off their race times.

Holsclaw runs practices like she is training swimmers at a state-title contending school. With a stopwatch hanging around her neck, she meticulously documents times for every swimmer, plugging the times into a spreadsheet on her clipboard. She makes sure each swimmer knows how they fared — good or bad.

While the team struggles to compete, Holsclaw has made it clear to the students that going through the motions isn’t acceptable.

“If you don’t get the times she wants, you are swimming laps or doing it again to get better,” Rouse said.

They have enjoyed some individual successes. Hansen and Rouse took first and second place in the 100 freestyle during a meet in mid-March, and all the swimmers proudly list a personal achievement of lowering their times.

Hansen, a senior and the team’s captain, is also the school’s top tennis player. Last year, he qualified in two events for the regional competition and frequently takes first during meets.

“We have to represent our school. That’s the main reason for me,” Hansen said. “You just have to have a good attitude and keep going.”

The school’s swimmers realize they are few in number and not expected to be competitive, but they refuse to let that defeat them. During meets and practices, they shout words of encouragement.

For them, there is more to high school sports than winning.

“We love the sport. It is part of us,” said Santana Garcia, a member of the girls team. “It is a little intimidating because there is a lot of them and a little of us. But that also motivates us. It’s us against them, and we are always going to be supporting each other.”

Holsclaw sees that as an indication the school’s turnaround efforts are working.

“Coming from other schools where the kids maybe see things as expected, this group of kids is so grateful for everything you give them or do for them,” she said. “I appreciate that. It makes me happy knowing I can make a difference.

“The hardest part is seeing that some of these kids don’t have the money (for equipment) or they don’t have the parental support. That breaks my heart. I know it’s the demographics of the neighborhood, but that breaks my heart.”

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