Swim team renews annual bonding tradition

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Jasper High School sophomore Avery Henke passes the ball to sophomore Noah Wagner while playing water polo during Christmas Eve swim practice at Jasper High School on Tuesday. Seven swimmers came to the optional practice.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — A handful of Jasper High School’s swimmers and divers took a break from Christmas festivities Tuesday morning for a game of water polo.

The optional event replaced the team’s practice on Christmas Eve, instead providing a fun workout for any team member who wanted to attend. This year, seven students showed.

“It’s a tradition,” said sophomore Noah Wagner. “And it’s exciting.”

Head Coach Kristin Gutgsell said the team’s been getting together on Christmas Eve to play water polo for about 20 years. During the season — which includes Christmas break — the team practices for about three hours a day, six days a week, and they don’t take a break for the holiday vacation. They have sectionals coming up in February, Gutgsell explained, and two weeks out of the water would be detrimental.

But they do take off Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and Gutgsell makes Christmas Eve optional. Those who attend the Christmas Eve water polo game, however, are ensured a good workout.

Jasper High School senior Abraham DeLacruz, left, senior Mayson Vanmeter and sophomore Connor Nolan take a break from playing water polo during Christmas Eve swim practice at Jasper High School on Tuesday.

“It’s actually a tougher workout than practice,” Gutgsell said. “And practice is pretty tough.”

The teammates who attend also get a chance to bond with their teammates prior to the end of the season. The kids who attend end up making some of their own rules for the game, or even veering away from water polo altogether. On Tuesday, the kids mixed in a few rounds of sharks and minnows, a game of underwater tag where someone is designated the shark and has to catch the minnows.

The games provide a bit of fun before the stress of end-of-season meets kicks in. But even at the end of the season, the 52 swimmers and divers still find ways to bond and have a good time. Before sectionals, the boys get together to shave their heads. All 52 also get together to dye their hair at the end of the season. No crazy colors, though. School rules dictate they have to go for natural hair colors, which usually means at least a couple bad bleach jobs as some of the dark haired students attempt to try out blond. Throughout the season, the team often gathers at sophomore Avery Henke’s house after meets.

At the end of the water polo game Tuesday, the seven teammates decided to keep the Christmas Eve bonding going and went in search of food. As they left the pool, they chatted about where to go, debating what would be open and trying to find a place they hadn’t been recently. The next day — Christmas — they’d get a break from practice, but on Thursday, they’d be back in the pool with the rest of their teammates, working hard to finish the season strong.




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