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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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The Knox Student

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Knox Swimmers Hope to Rebuild Program

The+Knox+College+pool+pictured+behind+a+window+that+contains+a+note+reading%3A+Pool+is+CLOSED+For+Maintenance+Until+Further+Notice+%28at+least+a+week%29.
Megan Shafar
The Knox College pool pictured behind a window that contains a note reading: “Pool is CLOSED For Maintenance Until Further Notice (at least a week).”

The Knox swim team withdrew from competitions for the 2023-24 season and is no longer holding team practices. Practices were still being held during fall term, but only a few people consistently attended. There were not enough people to make a full team.

Normally, the swim season lasts from Oct. to Feb., but the team did not compete at all this season, nor will they.

To be eligible as a team, 16 people — eight competing on the women’s team and eight on the men’s — need to participate in at least eight competitions.

Finding enough people to meet eligibility requirements has been a challenge in recent years. The Knox swim team has not met minimum participation thresholds for four of the last six years. Since 2017, only the 2022-23 and 2019-20 seasons met the full sponsorship requirements for both the men’s and women’s teams.

“We have roster numbers on record, but they do not accurately reflect how many students showed up for practices and competitions,” Athletic Director Corey Goff said in an email.

Members of the team expressed disappointment at the loss of their season.

“I miss swim,” said Junior Caroline Tieman. “It was nice to have that consistent exercise and hang out with the team, and meets were always really fun.”

The team also no longer has a coach. Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader stepped up to coach the team following the unexpected death of beloved economics professor and coach Jonathan Powers — known as J-Pow — in the summer of 2022. However, she is no longer coaching starting this term.

On top of that, the Knox pool is currently closed for maintenance. Goff said Knox is still waiting to receive results from an assessment done on the pool the last week of December. Until then, he said he does not know what the maintenance will involve or an estimate of when the pool can reopen.

The team found out the pool was closed after returning from winter break. Goff met with the team at the start of the term to discuss the decisions about the season. With the uncertainty throughout fall, some students said they did not know what would happen to their season and did not feel like the athletic department was communicating with them enough.

“I am frustrated with how little information we’ve had,” junior Ezren “Ren” Herzog said. “I get that it’s a tough thing, especially with all these rapid changes in the program, but I am frustrated with how, even if they don’t have a lot, or they don’t know, the fact that they just didn’t tell us is really frustrating.”

While team members expressed excitement about the updates to the pool, they also said they are frustrated by the timing.

“If the pool was working, we could at least practice on our own and still connect with that, but because it’s not working, we have to go out of our way,” Herzog said.

In the meantime, the athletic department is providing the team with memberships to Galesburg’s Hawthorne Pool. Goff emailed the team information about open swim times, as well as a schedule for the Galesburg buses, which are free with a Knox ID, so they could access the pool.

Hawthorne Pool is on the north side of town, near Walmart. Many students do not have cars, and the bus system is not always consistent. Herzog said the commute would be hard for the team, especially when people already have a lot going on.

The athletic department also offered students the opportunity to swim individually at competitions. Transportation would be arranged for anyone who wanted it, but the team consensus is that they are not interested in competing on their own.

“We would compete for our school and as a group, and keeping it a very communal experience is what made us keep going,” Junior Rachel Schonfeld said. “And no matter how much we like swimming, doing it completely by yourself, there’s no one else there to share the pressure or make jokes.”

That environment, focusing on support, community, and fun, means a lot to the team.

“I joined last year, and I hadn’t swam on a competitive team before, but it was really nice joining this team because I feel like it’s a very open, welcoming team. They don’t care what your skill level is, or where you’re at. Like, we’ve taught people new strokes,” Tieman said. “It’s really, you can come in wherever you’re at, and everyone will help you get better.”

Those who experienced J-Pow’s coaching style credit much of the positive team culture to him.

“I feel like, even still, being a part of the Knox swim team is so much at its core about who J-Pow was,” Schonfeld said. “He was just a character. He impacted all of our lives in unimaginable ways.”

J-Pow encouraged many people who would not have otherwise thought to join swim at Knox. To him, it did not matter what someone’s times were or whether or not they had a competitive swim background.

“A lot of people I don’t think would have continued swimming or would have pushed past potential trauma that they had with sports to swim and ultimately just felt better about themselves because of that culture that he created,” Herzog said. “And it’s really, really horrible to see it kind of fizzle out, and we really don’t want to see it completely die.”

Part of the understanding between J-Pow and the team was that they were students and humans first, before their athletic performances. This, the team said, created a culture where people supported each other and spent time together outside of practice.

“We were kind of a group of, I almost want to say misfits, but you know, at Knox, there’s really no such thing as a misfit because we’re all different people, and that’s kind of what’s celebrated,” Herzog said. “It’s something that I’m kind of scared of forgetting as I get older in the school because it was really, really special.”

The uniqueness of the program under J-Pow’s leadership also came from relationships he built in the classroom, as he coached while being a full-time professor.

“There’s probably not another school in the country that has a full faculty member who functioned in that type of capacity in their athletic world. That’s a model that many colleges had 25 years ago, but since recruiting, coaching has really become a year-round, full time job.” Goff said.

Without a coach, a full roster, or a working facility, there will be challenges in rebuilding the program.

“At this point, we don’t have a plan together yet; we realize that we have to develop one at some point soon,” Goff said.

Goff said the way the Knox swim team has operated in the past resembles a club team rather than the stricter attendance policies and competitive attitudes of most varsity-level college programs. To build the Knox swim team moving forward, he said the college needs to pick which avenue they want to go.

“Clubs can still compete against other schools; clubs are more student centered, in that they allow much, much greater flexibility. Clubs are much more attractive to a certain type of student who wants a very particular experience in swimming,” Goff said. “So that’s attractive to a certain group of students. It’s not attractive to someone who really wants to be a varsity competitive swimmer and potentially go on and win a conference championship or a national championship.”

Goff said the athletic department is not actively searching for a new swim coach. They will not begin the search until they decide whether to grow as a club team or varsity team.

“One’s not better than the other. They’re just very different,” Goff said. “And as you can imagine, a student who would be happy in a club environment would be unhappy in a varsity intercollegiate environment, and vice versa. So that’s part of the decision-making process that we will have to go through as we decide what we want to do with swimming in the future.”

Meanwhile, the team remains hopeful they can practice and compete next year in as similar of an environment as they can. With a small roster, some students said they feel left behind by the athletic department and want to be more involved in the decisions in the future.

“I wish that more had been shared, and I really hope that people fight with us to get swimming back because it’s a really, really special sport, and we want to continue J-Pow’s legacy as much as we can,” Herzog said.

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Megan Shafar, Staff Writer
Megan Shafar '26 (she/her) is a staff writer. She is majoring in environmental studies and minoring in public policy and enjoys dancing, reading, and watching shows.

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    Karen (Lutgens) MacKenzieJan 27, 2024 at 10:18 pm

    As a swimming alum, this breaks my heart. Being able to swim in a varsity team environment was one of the reasons I chose Knox. I was before J-Pow’s time, but the school was able to find a coach locally. I truly hope Knox finds a way to bring this program back.

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