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The Carmel Swim Club Is Special

Since the early 1970s, the Carmel Swim Club has established a strong tradition as the best swimming team in Indiana and one of the top club teams in the entire USA.  More important than accomplishments alone, Carmel Swim Club takes pride in offering a program for all ages and ability levels.  From the inexperienced beginning swimmer all the way up to the USA Swimming National competitor, everyone has a special place on the Carmel Swim Club.  Age group swimming builds a strong foundation for a lifetime of good physical and mental health by teaching time management, self-discipline and healthy fitness habits.  Carmel Swim Club teaches the ideals of honesty, integrity, fair play and sportsmanship in addition to the techniques and values of hard work and dedication. 

History of Carmel Swim Club - coaches perspective
By Chris Nelsen

Nothing seems able to derail the powerful juggernaut known as the Carmel Swim Club.  For more than 30 years, the club has managed to prosper and maintain its greatness, despite numerous coaching changes and tremendous growth.
The architect responsible for laying the club’s early foundation was Ray Lawrence, who joined the club in 1979 after a stint coaching the Indianapolis Swim Club. Within a few years, he turned the Carmel Swim Club into one of the state’s premier organizations.
“I wanted to create something that was systemically different than before … and it takes five to seven years to do that,” Lawrence said recently. “But if somebody doesn’t try to make that happen, or doesn’t continue that, it goes away in one or two years. The fact that we established something, we worked hard to do that.
“You exist for one reason,” he added, “for everybody to get better.”
Lawrence, who became the Carmel High School boys head coach in 1979 and the girls head coach a year later, credits the girls high school state championship in 1981 for helping create interest in the Carmel Swim Club. It was the first high school swimming title for either of the Greyhounds teams.
“The 1981 high school team is really what sparked the club,” he said. “The state high school meet is a small enough venue – it’s a lot smaller than an age group (state meet). We were able to do that and it sparked the development of the club. It was kind of an interesting thing.”
Seeing the high school team succeed helped motivate the younger club swimmers. In 1985, the club won its first age group long course state championship. In 1986, it claimed short course and long course state titles at the age group and senior levels.
“When the club was different, where I knew I could coach differently, was in 1987,” Lawrence said. “That’s when I stopped being the guy who had to push people, and became a guy that had to manage their will. I didn’t have to say things like, ‘Fix your goggles, start on time, swim to the wall.’ All of those things I said over and over for years stopped being a problem.
“There was a whole different level of expectations if you were a Carmel swimmer after 1984, ‘85, ‘86.”
Lawrence’s passion and expertise rubbed off on his swimmers and coaches during the club’s rise to prominence.
“What Ray brought to the table was a vision and attitude of: ‘Don’t be afraid to set high expectations,’” said Tom Avischious, who became the head age group coach of the Carmel Swim Club in 1985 and held the position for 10 years. He currently works as the Field Services Director for USA Swimming in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  “It was my job to give that vision and expectations to the kids, as far as making them believe the sky was the limit in what they could accomplish.”
Lawrence, who always considered himself an “age-group coach at heart,” began to experience great success at the high school level once his club swimmers started funneling into Carmel’s teams.
After winning the girls high school championship in 1981, he led the Greyhounds to five straight girls titles from 1986-90 and five straight boys titles from 1990-94.
In 1991, Lawrence handed the reigns of the Carmel Swim Club and the girls high school team over to Tony Young. In 1995, Young replaced Lawrence as the boys high school coach.
“There was a strong tradition of excellence … and I did not change what was working,” Young said. “My goal was to learn how the program worked – strengths and weaknesses – and build upon that to find what that next level was. Why would I change a vision that emulated in the eyes of the swimmers in the water the first day I interviewed for the job?
“Ray would come back each season after retirement to speak to the teams,” Young added. “Each new coach at Carmel, no matter at what level during my tenure, was taught to embrace these qualities of a successful organization. The well being of one athlete or one goal was never sacrificed for the well being of the team.”
Young’s ability to make a smooth transition to the club and high school teams resulted in numerous state championships at both levels.  He led the girls high school team to nine titles, extending the streak to 14 consecutive; and the boys high school team to three titles from 1995-97 (the ’95 crown was taken away by the Indiana High School Athletic Association via the court system).
He also guided the Camel Swim Club to 10 age group long course titles; nine age group short course titles; nine senior short course titles and seven senior long course titles.
“I look back to Ray Lawrence and Tony Young, I look back upon those years, and talking with those gentlemen, they’re the ones that built a great foundation upon which we’re still able to grow, improve and exist,” said current club and high school head coach Chris Plumb, who took over both programs in 2006. “Those two gentlemen, along with lots of others, really put Carmel Swim Club on the map.”
After Young’s departure from the club and high school teams in 2000, the success didn’t end. Ken Stopkotte took over as head coach and won three high school girls titles, extending the streak to 17, and three high school boys titles. He also led the club to three age group short course championships and two age group long course titles.
Tom Burchill replaced Stopkotte and won three high school girls titles from 2004-06, pushing the streak to 20 in a row, and the first boys high school National Title in 2004. Burchill also won age group long and short course titles each year with the club.   “We needed to maintain the level of expectation of winning,” Burchill said. “You’re always trying to improve what you’re doing. You come into a program like Carmel, you’re doing a lot of things right. I wanted to add things I felt would make us even better.
“We also worked to grow with the community, expand what people knew about the club. In the swimming world, we were very well known. In our own community, the high school was very well known, but the club was not. We really wanted to get our name out there in a very positive light.”
Following Burchill’s tenure, Plumb took over the high school and club teams. He has won three straight girls high school titles, extending the streak to a girls national high school record 23 straight, and has gotten the high school boys team back into position to compete for state titles.
With the club, he has won age group long and short course titles every year. Currently, the Carmel Swim Club is the top-ranked club in Indiana and the top-ranked Indiana swim club in the Toyota Virtual Club Championships.
“It’s a tribute to the coaches, athletes and administrators that came before us,” Plumb said. “I think it goes back to Ray Lawrence; and whether or not he knew it, he created a vision where repeated excellence occurred. To have that vision and belief carry its way through today is absolutely amazing.”
The only question now is how much larger and better the Carmel Swim Club can become. With membership at nearly 400 boys and girls, ranging in age from 5 to 18, Plumb said the club is exploring all options for further growth.  “We need to look at other places where we can practice and have more water. The limiting factor we have is the amount of water space available,” he said. “Right now, we’re coming to a place where we can’t grow too much bigger because we don’t have enough water. If we have the chance and ability to find more water then we can continue to grow, and if we don’t, we’re going to be stagnant.”
No matter how much bigger the Carmel Swim Club gets, members won’t suffer from a lack of coaching.
“Having a large number of kids is good, but having great instruction is equally as important,” said age group coach Chris Webb. “Our club has been focused on getting better, not just bigger, in recent years.”
As long as the passion for swimming continues to grow in the Carmel community and more youngsters become involved with the sport, the possibilities for growth and improvement seem limitless for the Carmel Swim Club.
“The club has a tremendous amount of parent resources and the volunteer base is fantastic with so many people willing to help out and spend an enormous amount of time,” Burchill said. “There are a lot of great people in the club who support the kids in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Chris Nelson is a freelance sportswriter from Indianapolis.