High School Swimmers Practice Before Dawn Year-Round

By Beacon Staff

Sunrise is still an hour away, but for 25 swimmers from Glacier and Flathead high schools, practice is already over. It’s freezing outside and a full day of school awaits them.

“They come here at 5:45,” coach Paul Stelter said, “get into a swimsuit and jump into a cold pool – with the workload they have, it’s amazing.”

Such is the routine for Kalispell’s high school swimmers. They swim at The Summit every morning during the winter season. In the spring and fall off-seasons, many continue the same routine. During the summer they sleep in until 6:30 or so before diving into the pool at Woodland Park, kicking and thinking about winter meets.

Stelter said that in this “sacrificial year” when all sports are dealing with the school split, his swimmers are as strong as ever, despite having low numbers on each team. The Wolfpack in particular are off to a quick start, with a handful of swimmers regularly placing at meets, including Philip Rempe and Seth Bumgarner, who each have a couple first place finishes under their belts.

“Of all the teams I’ve ever coached,” Stelter said, “this is probably the best balanced, boys and girls, team I’ve ever had.”

Flathead doesn’t have enough varsity members to enter relays, which hurts at meets, but coaches are quickly preparing lesser-experienced junior varsity kids for relay duties. The young swimmers – many of whom are freshmen – are up to the task, said JV coach Annie Gustafson.

“I’m really impressed,” Gustafson said. “They’ve never swam before and they’ve never been to a meet, but they’ve picked it up quick.”

Or as Stelter says about his team: “They’re really young but they’re very good.”

Kyle Brady, a sophomore for the Wolfpack, isn’t worried about the lack of experience of a few kids. With the swimmers’ rigorous training schedule, he said rapid progress is inevitable.

“If you swim for a year,” Brady said, “the amount you grow is exponential – it’s just so much.”

Rivalry wears a different suit in Kalispell’s swimming program. Whereas the inaugural meeting between the Braves and the Wolfpack on the footfall field this fall clearly showed signs of a healthy and burgeoning rivalry, in swimming the two schools share a pool and a coach. They practice together during the off-season as well, which is where Brandon Rannebarger comes in.

Rannebarger is the coach of the Kalispell Aquatic Team Swimmers (KATS), which is open to anybody and includes many of the swimmers from the high school. Through KATS, Rannebarger trains members of the high schools’ swim teams throughout the year. So he is a natural choice to take over the head coach position from Stelter, who said he is retiring at the end of this season after 18 years as head coach. Rannebarger is attending practices this winter to prepare himself for taking over the job, Stelter said.

“I take care of the mental stuff, the technique things,” Stelter said. “(Rannebarger) does the training.”

One could easily ask the question of why adolescents, occupied with the rigors of schoolwork and the social obligations of high school life, would want to dedicate 11 months’ worth of mornings every year to working out. Stelter, for one, ponders and answers that question.

“Being successful in anything is loving what you do,” Stelter said. “We really teach that here and they love what they do.”