by DENISE WEBB
“It was one of the best nights of my life,” said a smiling senior Andrew Murray, as he exited Rockford’s natatorium February 18 after swimming his last high school dual meet.
Murray had much to smile about that evening. The Rams swamped East Kentwood 192-116 in their final dual meet of the season, which landed the Rams in a three-way tie for the dual-meet season with West Ottawa and Grandville (5-1 record each).
Also, Murray and nine other senior swimmers and one senior diver were recognized and honored for their combined 35 seasons of dedication to the sport. Of these 11 seniors, eight have been on the team since their freshman year, when Tom Parks became head swim coach for the men’s team. “It’s been a fast four years,” said Parks.
During the past four years, several of these young men have won medals, swum state-qualifying times, placed at the state level, been added to the Grand Rapids Press top swimmers/divers of West Michigan list, and helped mold the team into a group of dedicated athletes.
The seniors honored that night were Kevin Bors, Derik Bothma, Andrew Denhof, Alex Devries, Rob Fugate, Brian Ginebaugh, Tyler Johnson, Andrew Murray, Kyle Peterson, Ian Rosloniec and Connor Thelen.
While some of these seniors will be hanging up their Speedos after graduation, others are continuing with the sport during their college years, including Bothma, Devries and Ginebaugh.
Bothma plans to swim in college, but has not yet “signed on the dotted line.” He has had many successes during his time at Rockford High School. During his sophomore year, he received Most Improved Swimmer. For his junior year, he was awarded All Conference and was a state qualifier in the 50-, 100- and 500-yard freestyle, and was a member of the team that placed third in state in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Not quite through his senior season, he has already qualified for state in the 50- and 100- yard freestyle. The advice he leaves his teammates is, “Enjoy it, even though it’s hard. Commit and always give your best.” When asked to share a fond memory, Bothma quickly responded with Parks’ infamous saying, “Jump and unleash the rockets.”
Devries plans to swim for Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, N.J.—about 20 minutes from downtown Manhattan—while majoring in social work. He swam on the varsity team all four years. When asked about personal accomplishments, he said, “The fact that I was able to stick with swimming year-round for 10 years is pretty crazy. I definitely had moments where I felt like quitting. I am so happy that I stuck with it, because it really is a part of me. If I would have quit swimming, I would have lost a part of myself. That would have to be the largest personal accomplishment.” Other personal accomplishments were being the first person to accomplish the swim set called “The Dog” all four years, being the team’s top scorer in his sophomore year, winning the 100-yard butterfly at conference in his junior year, and being All Conference his sophomore and junior years. When asked about a team memory, he said, “I have really been proud to be a member of a team that has come so far in four years. Thank you to Tom Parks for providing structure and an environment that encourages team work.”
Ginebaugh has been awarded the Neupauer full-tuition academic scholarship from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., where he was accepted into the honors program to major in engineering. In his “spare time,” he will swim for their team “that has made huge progress in the last few years,” Ginebaugh said. His advice to underclassmen is, “Swim in the off season, and don’t hide under the bulkhead during practice. Skipping yards doesn’t make you better.” One of his best memories was “when our team got the Blue-seventies [full-body swim suits]. The amount of teamwork that was required to get those suits off one person and onto another person was incredible, which led to some pretty funny moments.” Since Ginebaugh swam with Rockford Riptide in the off season and therefore year-round, he has accomplished much. For example, he was one of only two freshmen who made the varsity team in ninth grade—Devries was the other. During his sophomore year, Ginebaugh was second in the OK Red and 10th at state in the breaststroke, and came back in his junior year to secure first in OK Red and ninth at state in the breaststroke. Also, in his junior year, he was third in the OK Red and a state qualifier in the 200-yard IM, and he was a member of the relay teams for the 200-yard freestyle and the 200-yard medley that placed first and second, respectively, in the OK Red. “Most importantly,” Ginebaugh added, “I won green peas in 10th grade for making my state cut at the veggie meet, and white hominy in 11th grade. I still have those cans of unopened vegetables.” He added, “I’d like to thank Coach Parks for developing the high school program that went from last in the OK Red to first in the OK Red in just three seasons. Unleash the rockets!”
Johnson is uncertain if he will play sports in college, but he’s certain he’ll be attending Brigham Young University. He’ll walk away from Rockford’s diving boards with many accomplishments and memories. He placed 14th at state as a junior, scored at conference his freshman through junior years, and achieved a personal best of 240 points for six dives. His advice is, “Try to enjoy it while you can, because it’s over before you know it.” One of his many fond memories is “winning conference last year and everyone, including the coaches, jumped in the pool.”
Denhof is attending community college in the fall and “no, I’m not swimming.” His advice to underclassmen is, “Remember swimmers, don’t make Parks mad. He writes your swim sets.” One of his fondest memories is from his sophomore year when Rockford beat West Ottawa in the final meet to cap off an undefeated season.
Murray said two of his fondest memories were “last year at conference when I dropped 10 seconds off my 200-yard freestyle time” and when “the entire team stopped swimming laps because we had to sing along to Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ on the loudspeaker.” Murray also attributes many of his swimming successes to the coaching staff. “I would like to thank my coaches for all of their support throughout the seasons.”
“My advice for underclassmen,” said Rosloniec, “would be to still try to have fun even on the days you don’t want to be at practice or it’s just too painfully difficult. In the end, it will make you a better, faster swimmer.” Rosloniec hasn’t settled on a college, but is certain about pursuing film.
Advice from Fugate is, “Don’t save your energy for something later when you can use it now and make the best of it.” Fugate, like Ginebaugh, said winning “veggies” this year “was better than medals.” He is still uncertain about a university, but is looking to someplace warmer like Arizona.
Peterson, who swam four years with Parks, advises his younger teammates, “Hard work and determination will go a long way.” Peterson has been accepted at the University of Wisconsin Stout and Michigan State University.
This meet against East Kentwood concludes the Rams’ season with a 9-1 overall record. Beginning Thursday, Feb. 25 with diving preliminaries, Rockford hosts the OK Red men’s swimming and diving conference championships on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27. Come cheer on the Rams at home to help them win the conference title two consecutive years.