By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Seven students at Whittier Christian High School made history when they became the first athletes to be a part of the school’s inaugural swim team this past spring. It may have taken some time to secure, but thanks to a dedicated athletic director, swimming is now the 18th varsity sport offered at the school.
“I’ve had kids come up to me during the school year and say that they were a swimmer and would love to represent Whittier Christian,” said Rolland Esslinger, Whittier Christian’s athletic director. “So I did some research and contacted the CIF and basically, we didn’t need a full team, but we needed a paid coach that could supervise the swimmers in a certain number of meets.”
And so a swim team was born. This year’s team included five girls (Kylie Cooke, Heather Washle, Tiffany Park, Kianna Barboza and Grace Do) and two boys (Kyle Lee and Cody Walker).
Before this year, Maranatha was the only school in the Olympic League to have a swim team and a pool. Now, in addition to the Heralds, Valley Christian and Heritage Christian have also introduced small swim teams.
In an ironic twist, Lee and Walker were grouped with boys from Whittier Christian’s rival school, Valley Christian, in order to compete in relays at swim meets.
Esslinger said that even though the team was unable to win any events, the fact that the swimmers still wanted to compete added a nice touch to the long-standing rivalry.
“It has to be a first in our history,” Esslinger said. “They had fun. It was pretty neat to be able to form some friendships and do that.”
Also, Lee, a freshman, came very close to representing Whittier Christian in the CIF-SS Individuals in the 200-meter individual medley.
Getting to this point was not without challenges, though. After making announcements in chapel and throughout various events on campus, Esslinger, along with assistant Nicole Nikolaides and his seven team members, dove into a season that would become as much of a learning experience for the coaches as it was for the swimmers.
Esslinger admitted that, going in, he knew little about swim meets and the sport of swimming. He claimed that he and Nicolaides were there to uplift and encourage the kids rather than teach them.
“I had actually never been to a swim meet before,” Esslinger said. “We wanted to make sure we got the buses coordinated and then we just took a bunch of pictures and videos. In the very first meet, one of our girls missed her event because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was trying to coordinate everything, and it didn’t start off too well that way. But after that, it was a great time and they loved representing their school.”
During the season, the kids would practice on their own and come together for the meets. According to Esslinger, each student athlete was also involved in another activity on campus. Some played other sports while others participated in music. Esslinger was very appreciative that those other coaches and teachers allowed members of the swim team to skip a practice every now and then to go to a meet.
This go-with-the-flow style was a bit hectic at times for the Heralds, but it also turned out to be quite fun for everyone involved. Esslinger, who claims he had the most fun, is already looking forward to next season.
“We’ve got some decent swimmers. Hopefully they stick with it,” Esslinger said. “It was neat for them to be a part of it. We have some great kids.”
Right now, Cooke is the lone incoming senior for next year’s squad and has already provided a huge help to Esslinger and Nicolaides.
“She’s an excellent swimmer, she does it all and she’s a really strong kid,” Esslinger said. “I had to take her with me to the coaches’ and captains’ meetings, and while the referees were going over rules with me, I would look at Kylie to make sure that she understood it all so that she could go and relay the message to her teammates. In that regard, she was really teaching me.”
Since Esslinger said his role was more of a motivator, there are thoughts of bringing in a coach in the future. At the very least, Esslinger said he would love to have someone to help coach the kids at meets next season.
Esslinger believes that next season will be similar to this one, with all events held at Maranatha. However, he does have resources he can try if Whittier Christian hosted a meet in the future. One possibility could be La Habra High School, where the current boys water polo coach David Edwards was a former student of Esslinger’s.
“La Habra has been really gracious to us in letting us use their track, and it might be something that down the line I would talk with Frank McCarroll [La Habra High School athletic director] about, but we’re not at that point yet,” Esslinger said.
For now, Esslinger and Nicolaides are happy to provide some promising student athletes with an opportunity, one that Esslinger hopes can tread water for a long time.
“We’re evaluating whether or not we want to do anything different for the coming season, but it will probably be mostly the same,” he said. “If we’re going to do something, we want to do it well, so going forward, we’ll keep thinking of ways to make it better and hopefully we have a few more kids so we can have some more fun.”