In the fall of 1972, a handful of Central Catholic girls decided to start a swim team. Though the high school did not, and does not, have a swimming pool, the Athletic Director, Paul LaRocca gave them the go-ahead.
“You’ll only have to do it for a couple years,” LaRocca said to Mary Ellen Crose when asking her if she would be the coach of the newly founded girls swim team.
Crose continued to coach the swim team for the next 38 years.
At the time, Crose had swum but had never coached the sport before. She received a lot of help from one of the girl’s mother, Jeanne Vaughan, who was a swimmer in the 1948 London Olympics.
“She was such a mentor to me,” said Crose. “Jeanne never stepped in unless I asked, and I asked a lot of questions. She was nothing but gracious.”
That first team of girls, including Jeanne Vaughan’s daughter – also named Jeanne – made it to the state championship.
From the initial handful, the team quickly grew in numbers to over 25 girls by the 1973-1974 school year, and it has continued to grow and be a robust team ever since then. And for many people over the years, Crose and the other swim coaches taught them not only swimming technique but also the basics of how to swim.
The name of the team has also changed over the years. The girls called themselves the “Whalers” for many years, which was briefly changed to “Angelfish” and eventually “Knights”. Boys also joined the swim team in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The swim team has practiced both in the early morning and also right after school, just depending on when they could get access to a pool. Throughout the years, the Whalers have practiced at the YMCA, YWCA, Jeff, Harrison, McCutcheon, and West Lafayette. They’ve even practiced once at the pool at the Best Western Hotel, Crose said.
“It was a challenge to schedule time in the pool,” said Crose. “And we had to find more pool time for the more dedicated swimmers.”
Several of the CC athletes throughout the years have also gone on to swim in college. In addition to the successes that the team has had, Crose also tried to make sure swimming was fun, too.
“Not everybody could get a school record, so our team emphasized more on personal goals and personal bests,” said Crose. “It was a combination of a swim team and a swim club.”
Other things the team would do to have fun included decorating all of the swimmers’ school lockers, decorating the senior’s rooms at home, exchanging secret Santas, and going out to dinner after significant victories. They also had breakfast with the Jeff swim team a few times to help build camaraderie. The swimmers also appreciated the donuts and danishes after the early morning practices, as well as the brown-bag dinners that the team would eat on the bus ride home after a meet, both of which were provided by Whaler moms and were always delicious after a hard workout in the pool.
“It was fun,” said Crose. “Everybody tried their best.”
Crose stopped coaching in 2010, but the swim team continues to thrive and has remained undefeated at home for over 43 years.