POSTED ON AUGUST 1, 2012:
Timed for Success
Swim club in Bartlesville has long legacy, strong aspirations
The oppressive summer heat looks pleasantly distant poolside. Wide, vertical strips of windows take up nearly two whole sides of the Phillips66 Aquatic Center, their transparency stretching from the ceiling to within about a foot of the floor.
More than simply a gleaming indoor pool in Bartlesville or an especially fancy perk for employees of oil corporation Phillips 66, the center serves as a training ground for young swimmers pushing themselves to compete at the highest level as part of the Phillips 66 Splash Club.
Along with being a top swim club for the region, the program also has a heritage stretching back more than six decades.
"The person that originated this team was an icon within USA Swimming and used to do clinics all over the world," said Jeff Allen, the club's head swim coach.
He's referring to Kenneth Treadway, who founded the club in 1950. An employee of the company, Treadway's passion for swimming influenced Phillips to host swim meets and in the 1970s become a major swimming sponsor, according to Treadway's biography with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The company continues to be a major swimming sponsor.
The swim club is one of the oldest continually running clubs in the country, said Allen, who oversees a program that today offers unique opportunities for local swimmers.
In October, for example, Olympic gold medal winner Janet Evans came to Bartlesville to provide inspiration and even help out in the pool with a stroke class.
"It's just a huge bonus for our kids," said Chuck McCauley, president of the club's board of advisors and parent of Mason, a 15-year-old swimmer with dreams of landing a swimming scholarship.
Having such swimming luminaries -- along with Evans, five-time Olympic medalist Ian Crocker has also visited Bartlesville in recent years -- is also "good for our coaches," McCauley said. "The same things that they're telling our kids, it's neat when they get to hear the same things from the Olympians."
Earlier this summer, Allen and a contingent of swimmers made the trip to Omaha, Neb. to attend the USA Swimming Olympic trials, getting behind-the-scenes access because of Phillips' swimming sponsorship.
Allen said his job is among the best in the country. But he didn't leave Connecticut -- where he enjoyed national success as coach of a YMCA team -- to simply bask in the perks of the Phillips name.
He said he's here to "rekindle the fire" of a proud program. At one point, the team dwindled to about 40 swimmers, in part because of corporate shuffling that sent many workers to Houston, Allen said. Now, the club numbers about 70.
Allen's competitiveness comes through when he describes how swimmers reacted to his methods when he took the job in 2010.
"It took them a while to get used to the level of work and intensity that we do," said Allen, known as "Coach Jeff" to club members.
Not unlike gymnastics, swimmers often start at a young age, and the Phillips 66 Splash Club starts training youth as young as five.
"This sport is about long-term development," Allen said, speaking in the slightly clipped, revved-up style of the northeast.
The club currently includes major college prospect Colton Krause, who narrowly missed attending the Olympic trials as a competitor.
Training takes up more than 20 hours weekly, with two-and-a-half hour practices routinely starting at 6am, then frequent out-of-state travel to attend swim meets. Unlike seasonal sports, swimmers basically train year round, with only a few breaks scattered throughout the year.
McCauley said that, as a parent, he's impressed by the character of those willing to put in the effort to chase their swimming goals. "When kids get to be this age, their peers are very important to them. The quality of kids that are involved in the program -- because it is a demanding sport, it is time-consuming -- I think the quality of kid that our son spends so much time with is just second to none," he said.
Membership usually starts with a call from a parent, Allen said.
"We have them come in. We take a look at their skills," Allen said. Through a separate four-week program for those that don't quite make the cut, some training may still be offered.
A perk that might go unnoticed -- but not by Allen -- is the strong financial commitment at the club level put forth by Phillips. Unlike in other clubs, parents don't have to do much fundraising.
But swimming doesn't bring in ticket sales, so parents help pay assistant coaches. Compared to other clubs nationally, Allen said fees -- which are being raised slightly, but until recently topped out at $660 annually -- fall well below what parents pay in other parts of the country.
McCauley called it a "fluke" that his son took up swimming, and stressed that the club is open to all, not just Phillips employees. "I never thought my kid would have been a swimmer," McCauley said.
The Olympics remains the pinnacle of the sport, a fact that makes club members especially attuned to the London games.
"They're really into it," Allen said, adding that he's been trying to set up a team watching party, though the start of school may make that difficult.
Along with lowered times and personal bests, Allen said taking part in a swim club means much more than developing skills in the pool.
"Swimming has a tendency to really mirror life in terms of what I call life values and life lessons," Allen said.
Pool records stand out prominently on the walls of the training center. Less conspicuous is a small flag featuring the familiar, interlocking rings.
For Allen the joy comes not only from seeing elite athletes break personal records, but also from swimming's less-celebrated moments. Asked his favorite moments as a coach, he mentioned having "a 9-year-old swim the 25 meter butterfly without getting disqualified."
Ultimately, the goal is for swimmers to "keep enjoying what they're doing and experience some level of success," he said.
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