There couldn’t have been a more appropriate occasion for the Rams to host Senior Night than on their last OK Red dual meet of the season at Rockford’s home pool on Thursday, Feb. 17. It was a bittersweet ending to a perfect conference dual meet record, as the Rams beat the Grandville Bulldogs 196-116, making them 10-0 for the season.
Head Coach Tom Parks had nothing but words of praise for his seven seniors: swimmers, captain Ben Fredrickson, Victor Lima, captain Jared Martella, Tim Newberger, captain Jeff Schmitt, and divers, captain LJ McCauley and Kurt Plaggemars.
Parks boasted, “This is the first group of seniors that I have ever coached in which the entire senior class has scored at conference. They are truly a diverse group, but have all worked together and become tremendous leaders with a strong work ethic.”
Diving Coach Mark VanDyken agreed, “Our two senior divers have led their younger teammates by example. Kurt never quits until he gets it right, and LJ fulfills his role as captain very well by bringing a positive and fun attitude to diving, which makes all the hard work fun.”
It was a night of mixed emotions, as Parks introduced the seniors to the audience one by one, while the younger Rams stood in a line and firmly shook the hands of their senior leaders and said goodbye. For some it was hard to hold back the tears, as they realized that this would be the last time that these Rockford seniors and their younger teammates would swim together on this deck.
Parks admitted, “It has been an absolute pleasure to have coached these guys. They will be truly missed.”
As for the senior swimmers and divers, they had some words of wisdom about their experience over the years of being on the team. Senior captain Martella, whom Parks doted as a “hard worker,” admitted, “Swimming on the high school team is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and probably will ever do… getting up so early, the grueling workouts. Yet, if I had to do it again, I would still swim. It gives you discipline, and a sense of commitment, and helps you to become a better student.”
Newberger, whom was described by Parks as “a laugh a minute,” agreed, “It was tough, hard work, but at times it was fun. There were some good times in the locker room.” But he concluded that it was time for him to leave the team, as his younger brother David will be coming on the team next year, and “the Rockford swim team can’t handle more than two Newbergers at once.”
Senior captain Fredrickson, whom Parks described as one of the strongest athletes the team has ever had, gave some advice to his younger teammates. “If you stick with it, work hard, good things will happen, and you will reach your goals,” he said.
Senior captain diver McCauley, also known as the “Renaissance man,” advised others to “have fun, and try to get to know all the guys on the team.”
Parks also commented on senior captain Schmitt, whom he described as “one of the most impressive swimmers we have ever had. He is versatile, shows no fear, and is great under pressure, and diver Kurt Plaggemars is one of the funniest people that I have ever met.”
As for Brazilian exchange student Victor Lima, whom was talked into joining the team by his host family Darren and Tracy Brown, Parks confirmed that “he still doesn’t enjoy swimming, but likes being around the guys, and has done really well on the team.”
As the season draws to a close, the swimmers, divers, coaches and parents would like to thank these seven seniors for the fond memories and their great contribution to the Rockford High School swimming and diving team over the years.
Looking ahead, the Rams have two championship meets left in the season. On Thursday, Feb. 24, the OK Red conference dive prelims will take place, with the conference swim prelims being held on Friday, Feb. 25, with finals on Saturday, Feb. 26 at West Ottawa’s home pool. Following that, several of the senior Rams and their teammates will continue their season and travel to the state championships at Oakland University with prelims beginning on Friday, March 11, and state finals on Saturday, March 12.