For three years, Marshalltown swim coaches Mike Loupee and Angie Nelson have been trying to boost their high school numbers with a middle school program.
The Blue Wave swim team at the YMCA has done wonders and is a strong feeder program for the Bobcats, but meeting the high school coaches before roaming the halls at MHS also will be beneficial for swimmers looking to extend their careers in the pool.
And after striking out many times with administrators in the school district, the coaches finally got their wish.
Starting this February, there will be a three-week season at the middle school level.
"Coach Nelson and I are excited about it," said Loupee, who is the boys varsity head coach and an assistant to Nelson on the girls' squad. "We have had trouble getting it off the ground, but we hope this can boost the high school numbers in the coming years."
Boosting numbers is a common theme throughout all the athletic teams at Marshalltown High School. This year's boy's swim team has just seven juniors and seniors on the roster and the girl's team - after graduating a strong senior class this year - will have plenty of holes to fill next year.
The good news is, 79 middle school swimmers have already signed up for the short, three-week program.
"It's a really brief program, but we want to expose them as much as we can to the high school team," Nelson said. "It's not realistic to think that all 79 of those kids will go out in high school, but hopefully we get kids out that we wouldn't normally get otherwise."
Both Loupee and Nelson credited MHS Activities Director Craig Huegel, Miller Middle School Principal Jacy Large and Miller Middle School teacher Jennifer Beals for helping to finalize the necessary steps it takes to get the program off the ground.
Huegel said the decision, to him, was a no-brainer.
"We host the state swim meet here every year, so it's only fitting that we try to get as many people in our high school pool as possible," Huegel said. "The interest we have seen so far is incredible and if we can hook three or four kids per year to continue swimming in high school, that'd be great."
The three-week program will take place in late February and early March. That is right around the time that the other two middle school sports - basketball and wrestling - are not in season. That will allow the young future Bobcats to try all three sports and see what they enjoy the most.
"We just want the kids to be a little more acquainted with the sport of swimming and see if it is something they may want to pursue in high school," said Nelson.
Loupee and Nelson will be volunteer coaches this season as they help the program get off the ground. They will teach basic swim techniques and give them a very compact idea of what swimming is like.
The first season will not include any home meets but the middle school swimmers will head to Boone, Ankeny and Southeast Polk.
"We are hoping that this helps us boost numbers in the coming years," Loupee said. "We are excited about it and looking forward to it. We want them to know that swimming is a viable option and to make sure they know where the swimming pool is in the high school.
"We have been very fortunate that Jacy Large and Craig Huegel have been very receptive to the idea. They announced it at their fall banquet and the kids are excited about it. We also are very fortunate to have an excited swim fan in Jennifer Beals, she is a teacher there. They started an early sign up and she helped recruit a lot."
While Loupee and Nelson will be headlining the coaching staff, both agreed that high school swimmers and assistant high school coaches will be used to help as well. And with 79 swimmers signed up, they will need all the help they can get.
"It's exciting to see this program getting started," said MHS senior Sam Carter, who is one of just seven upperclassmen on this year's varsity squad. "We went through a stretch where kids just weren't going out for swimming. The numbers are down and this will hopefully help the high school programs in a lot of different ways moving forward."