Swimming: RAC racking up success stories

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 21, 2016

SALISBURY — Former Salisbury Hornet McKenzie Stevens has been a big part of back-to-back national championship swim teams at Queens University.
At the recent Division II Nationals in Indianapolis, the sophomore was fourth in the 200 butterfly, second in the 200 freestyle and swam on the championship 800 free team.
Each time Stevens wins a medal or breaks a record, Ben Humphrey smiles.
Since 2010, Humphrey has been the head coach of the Rowan Aquatic Club team based at Salisbury’s J.F. Hurley YMCA, and RAC played a role in Stevens’ development as a prep state champion and college national champion.
“I like to hope McKenzie learned some things from us,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey is equally proud of Taylor Rodenhuis, a former Salisbury High and RAC swimmer who now competes in meets as a member of the Army West Point Triathlon Team.
Humphrey’s current prize pupils include West Davidson’s Alex Van Der Linden and Salisbury High’s Ethan Knorr. Van Der Linden, a senior who won the 50 and 100 freestyle races in the recent 1A/2A state championships, was the Central Carolina Conference Swimmer of the Year. Knorr, a sophomore who already is Rowan County’s best in the pool, was runner-up for that honor.
“Ethan is someone who is able to juggle multiple things and do them all really well,” Humphrey said. “He swims 19 hours a week, but he’s still No. 1 in his class academically at Salisbury.”
Humphrey keeps track of report cards because he’s as committed to developing the “dry side” of swimmers, as he is to helping them improve times in the water. He’s as pumped up about RAC community service projects as he is championship meets.
“There are outstanding kids who will get college swimming scholarships,” Humphrey said. “But our basic goal is to develop young adults. We have high expectations and we encourage everyone to give everything they have and to accept responsibility for doing the right thing when no one is watching. We prepare kids to be better college students. If they choose not to go to college, we want to help them be better members of the work force.”
Humphrey has an interesting history. He didn’t become a success overnight. He paid some dues.
He began swimming at age 5 and made the leap to serious, year-round swimmer during his high school years at Davie County. He developed his talent to the point that he was a 14-time All-American for the Winston-Salem YMCA. As a Davie senior, he placed second in the 4A state meet in the 100 and 200 freestyle events.
Humphrey moved on from Davie to shine in high-profile meets in college. First for N.C. State, and later for UNC Wilmington.
“I was more comfortable at UNC Wilmington,” Humphrey said. “State was a little big, but at Wilmington, anywhere I walked, I would see people that I knew. I’m just a small-town guy, and I think that’s one of the things that ultimately drew me to Salisbury.”
Humphrey was a terrific swimmer for the UNCW Seahawks. He was the best in the 200 freestyle for a championship program. He was a strong backstroker and was part of exceptional 200 and 400 free relay teams.
After coaching as a graduate assistant at UNC Wilmington while he earned a masters degree in teaching, Humphrey knew his life’s work would be as a teacher/coach.
But his first opportunity to impact the lives of high school students came as a soccer coach.
Soccer was a sport he knew next to nothing about, but coaching girls soccer was part of the deal when he was hired for his first job as an English teacher at Ledford High in rural Davidson County.
“I told them swimming was the sport I knew,” Humphrey said with a laugh. “They told me that, well, soccer is a whole lot like swimming — only it’s on land … and there’s a ball involved.”
Things happen for a reason. Humphrey learned enough soccer that it opened another door. His next teaching/coaching gig got him closer to what he wanted to do. That was at Davie where he was hired as the boys jayvee soccer coach — and assistant swim coach.
In August of 2010, Humphrey was hired to guide the Rowan Aquatic Club, and he found his dream job.
“There are important principles you can teach through the YMCA that you can’t really talk about when the school system is attached,” Humphrey said. “That was crucial for me.”
The roots of RAC go back to the early 1980s.
The club’s accomplishments over the years are numerous. It’s reputation has always ben solid. RAC is known as one of the state’s top small-team YMCA-based programs.
Humphrey listed some of the club’s accomplishments since last summer:
•2 YMCA National Qualifiers with 1 Top-16 finish at the Long Course Championships in 2015
•2 USA Future’s Championships Qualifiers
•$1.1 million of scholarships offered
•1 USA Swimming Zone Meet Invitee during the summer of 2015
•1 USA Swimming Zone Select Camp Invitee
•1 USA Swimming Open Water Zones Qualifier
•11 NC Swimming Top-10 Times (7 of the 11 are in the top-5)
•1 NC Select Camp Invitee
•3rd Place Finish at YMCA GYSSA League Championships (essentially the YMCA State Championship Meet)
•13 NCHSAA Regional Qualifiers with 1 Regional Champion in 2 events
•9 NCHSAA State Championship Qualifiers with 1 State Champion in 2 events and 1 3rd place finish
•12 High School All-County swimmers
•9 High School All-Conference swimmers
RAC offers various training levels. Humphrey realizes not everyone is going to go all-in for swimming like Knorr, but there’s a program to fit everyone.
“We do provide opportunities for swimmers to test out the competitive side of the sport,” Humphrey said. “But we’ve also got introductory programs where people can learn the technical strokes. Then they’ve got the opportunity to tiptoe into swimming to try it out.”
Swimming is a lifetime sport. Humphrey said the RAC ranks include swimmers as young as 6 as well as seniors in their 80s. Humphrey lists teamwork, friendship, fun, healthy competition and sportsmanship as the formula for a positive environment.
“A lot of swimmers are capable of a lot more than they think,” said Humphrey, a USA Swimming and ASCA Level 1 certified coach. “We bring out their best. I was a part of some championship teams at UNC Wilmington, and I know what it takes.”
RAC continues to shine in meets.
At the 14-under YMCA State Championships on Feb. 25-28, six RAC swimmers competed — Emily Knorr, Katie Knorr, Carley Carpenter, Alexandra Childress, Rachel Gibson and Maci Holshouser.
Emily and Katie are Ethan’s twin sisters. They compete in the 11-12 age group and will be a big part of Rowan’s swimming future. Katie competed in five events in the state championships, while Emily competed in four. Emily finished third in the 500 freestyle and was invited to the NC Select Camp.
In the Greater YMCA Sunbelt Swimming Association Championships on March 4-6 in Hillsborough, essentially the state meet for North Carolina, RAC, which had more than 100 registered competitors, finished third overall out of 13 teams.
“This was a huge accomplishment for our team because it reinforces the changes we have made to our team structure and how we develop our swimmers,” Humphrey said.
RAC-Y is growing and expanding. The team has expanded to operate at the South and East Rowan YMCAs as well as the Stanly County and Thomasville YMCAs.
Humphrey is excited that the Hurley YMCA is adding a new training center. The RAC also will have a new summer swim team, the Salisbury Seahawks. They’ll compete this year in the Davidson County Summer Swim League.
“I believe RAC provides the best bang for the bang in our area,” Humphrey said. “We provide quality programs, quality practices and quality coaching. It’s all about creating opportunities for kids.”
In order to be part of the Rowan Aquatic Club, contact Coach Humphrey at 704-636-0111 or bhumphrey@rowanymca.com to set up a time to bring your child in for evaluation in the water for correct group placement.