The Fairmont Swimming and Diving team will see some new faces around the pool this year. Longtime Head Coach Steve Hippenmeyer and his assistant coaches Jonnie Shoemacher and Jenny Fiden resigned their coaching positions this year, and 2006 Fairmont alumnus T.J. Collins and his staff of Monica Collins and Jessica Ripple will lead the swim program in the 2012-13 season.
“My kids are getting older, and they’re involved in athletics,” said Hippenmeyer, explaining his decision to quit coaching after 14 seasons. “I want to be there for them as much as possible.”
Hippenmeyer said he would miss coaching at Fairmont but added that he feels fulfilled with his time coaching for the Firebirds. “I’m going to miss seeing the team come together and establish tight bonds,” he said. “I hope that Fairmont continues its traditions of strong sportsmanship and doing things the right way.”
Hippenmeyer believes that Collins (a former swimmer under Hippenmeyer) is just the guy to do that. “He’s the real deal,” said Hippenmeyer. “He’ll do a great job.”
When Hippenmeyer decided to resign, Shoemacher decided to do the same. Shoemacher, who also has coached for 14 years, said she felt this was as good a year as any to allow someone else to come into the picture.
“It was a wonderful transition,” she said, explaining how swimmers were invited to a meeting to talk about how the situation was going to play out. But she said she still has feelings for the sport and the swimmers at Fairmont.
“I am excited to watch our swimmers compete this year from a point of view other than [that of a coach],” said Shoemacher. “I think what I will miss most is the constant contact with the kids,” she said. “Unfortunately, it is always somebody’s senior year when a coaching change occurs.”
And it is. Senior returning swimmers and captains Christiana Welch and Kevin Whaley admit to having mixed feelings about the change.
“It’s disappointing not having our old coaches … Jonnie taught me how to swim,” said Welch. “But Coach Collins seems really nice.”
Whaley said he also would miss last year’s coaches, but he thinks the program is still heading in the right direction. “It’s definitely going to be different this year, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said. “I’m open to the change. No matter who’s coaching, the team is still a family.”
Although Hippenmeyer and Shoemacher will no longer be coaching, that doesn’t mean you won’t see them around. “I plan on staying involved as much as possible,” said Shoemacher, adding that she’ll be doing a lot of organizational work for the team. Hippenmeyer also talked about how he planned on coming to as many meets as possible.
While the swim team will miss last year’s coaches, there is obvious excitement surrounding the upcoming season under Coach Collins, and it’s not just from the swimmers. Fairmont Athletic Director Chris Weaver has high hopes for the swim program.
“Anytime you lose a coach that’s been around for 14 years, it’s hard, not only for the program but for the coach as well. We’re very fortunate to be able to hire a Fairmont alum who has familiarity with the program,” said Weaver. “He knows what it takes to succeed and is a very talented swimmer.”
While swimming for Hippenmeyer at Fairmont, Collins took 17th at state in the 50-meter freestyle, and 24th in the 100-meter freestyle his senior year. He still holds the Fairmont records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, as well as the 200- and 400-meter relays. Collins went on to swim at Wright State and performed admirably there as well, including setting school records in the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay, and the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Collins is already excited about the upcoming season as a Fairmont coach.
“It’s great to be able to come back and coach here. Coming from Fairmont, I know how much this school means to me, as an athlete and student,” he said. “Being able to come back and coach is an honor, and I hope I can continue Fairmont’s tradition.”
Given all of his time in the water, Collins says he has picked up on what it takes to be successful in the sport. “You have to be pushed, but at the same time, you have to have fun,” he said. “I want to help push the athletes to do their best, and also reach or even surpass their goals.”
Collins also addressed how the change in staff would affect participation.
“It’s bound to affect some people, but the kids who have a love for swimming will show up, and we will have a great season.”