U swim team builds a program

by David La

The death of a friend is cause for reflection on the life’s work of the deceased, but also a reminder that one’s own work is far from over.
At the 1997 funeral of north Minneapolis swimming coach and University graduate Carroll Gustafson, Minnesota women’s swimming and diving coach Jean Freeman recalled her days as a swimmer and resident of north Minneapolis. She decided it was time to rejuvenate the stagnant swimming program there and continue the vision of her coach and mentor, Gustafson.
“As you get older, you look for what makes you feel good,” Freeman said. “What makes me feel good is to start a program in north Minneapolis like what was available to me.”
The realization of this goal has come in the form of a competitive middle school swim program for students at Franklin Junior High in north Minneapolis.
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon since April 6th, and continuing until May 13th, Freeman and some of her athletes voluntarily conduct a free swimming program in which they teach students the basic strokes of swimming.
Not only are the students benefitting from the opportunity to learn more about competitive swimming, but the Gophers athletes are also relishing their roles as teachers.
“You finally get to show someone else what you’ve learned,” Minnesota sophomore Katy Christoferson said. “It’s nice to see their progress.”
The progression of bringing the clinic from its conceptual stages to reality is thanks in part to people — besides Freeman — who have ties to the north Minneapolis area and see the vast upside of such programs.
Joel Shinofield, a Minneapolis public school graduate and current swim coach at Richfield Swim Club and Washburn High School, assisted Freeman by contacting the principal at Franklin and getting the go-ahead to use the pool facility there.
“Hopefully we can do two things,” Shinofield said. “Rebuild the base of Minneapolis swimming, and more importantly give kids a positive activity to do after school.”
Franklin physical education teacher Jesse Thomas, who also coaches the boy’s swimming team from North/Henry High School, sees the program as another sport from which students can draw the numerous intangibles that come with involvement in sports.
“I believe in it so much. I preach the importance of being involved in athletics,” Thomas said. “The benefits of the skills learned are insurmountable.”
While the kids frolicking around the pool may not totally understand the lobbying of their coaches and teachers to get involved in sports, the consensus is that the program is fun. And that’s enough for now.
“In gym they handed us sheets and I was like, `Oh cool, I like to swim so I’ll be there,'” student Jeremy Riesberg said. “It gives you a goal to keep going for. It’s fun and it’s something to do.”
As the program continues to develop, its organizers hope the idea will spread to other junior high schools in the area and competitive leagues will form.
Minnesota junior Marta Knowles sees the program as a chance for inner-city kids to enjoy suburb-type programs.
“I don’t think the kids in Minneapolis have the same opportunities that the kids in the suburbs have,” Knowles said. “I would like to help in any way that I can to give back.
“I enjoy seeing a smile on the kids’ faces.”
Somewhere Mr. Gustafson is smiling, too.