Howard Is Guiding Oasis Christian's Swim Program to Success
Sun. August 26, 2012 at 11:53 p.m. | By Polk Preps Staff
LINDA HOWARD has helped build a very successful program at Oasis Christian. She started the program nine years ago. (Photo by BILL KEMP | LEDGER MEDIA GROUP )
By BILL KEMP
LEDGER MEDIA GROUP
Linda Howard isn't afraid to plunge into the deep end of the pool.
Nine years ago, Howard marched into Haven Christian Academy, now Oasis Christian, and asked if she could launch a swimming program for her daughter Sarah. The school agreed, and the program — the school's first to be sanctioned by the FHSAA — has produced a state qualifier in each of the past eight seasons.
"I was excited that the school let it happen," Howard said. "It was a big process for them, and it cost some money, but they were willing to do it. There were sports (at OCA) but they were all in the Christian league."
Howard, who had previously coached for USA swimming in Missouri, said the Lions' program experienced some humble beginnings.
"I started with three girls, my daughter and two other girls who had never been on a swim team in their life," Howard said. "One girl literally swam a 50 (yards), got out of the pool, and threw up."
Since then, two of Howard's daughters, Sarah (2007) and Rebekah (2010, 2011), captured Polkpreps.com girls swimmer-of-the-year honors on three occasions. Sarah eventually joined the University of Arkansas team and Rebekah has been a state qualifier in each of the past four seasons. Howard's third daughter, Hannah, just missed a state berth in the 50 freestyle last season as an eighth-grader.
"Her daughters are elite swimmers in any classifications," Winter Haven boys swimming coach Danny Wallace said. "She's really done a decent job at building a program at a small school."
The first boys joined the Lions' program in 2008 and they quickly found out swimming is tougher than advertised.
"The two that came out were football players and they didn't make it through the season," Howard said.
But now having grown to 23 swimmers, Howard feels OCA is deep enough to compete in the team standings instead of just focusing on individual wins and qualifiers.
"I would like to get into the (girls) top three at districts this year, a first," Howard said. "The truth of the matter is, we're not going to win these meets, I don't have a dive team. The girls that I've got, that are really good, are going to win. We have a chance always to be first or second in my girls' relay. But I can only do that for two relays."
Howard said her vision is to add enough male swimmers to field all the events, recruit some divers and land a qualified coach to commit to a dive team.
Oasis Principal Matt Wiggins is in Howard's corner and he's keeping a watchful eye for just the right coaching candidate.
"I'm always looking for teachers that are well-rounded, and I am looking for a teacher with some diving experience," Wiggins said. "It's my responsibility to bring people in who are passionate about what they do. I don't move on people who tell me they are not passionate."
OCA now fields FHSAA sanctioned teams in volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball. Cross country was just added this year.
"We are trying to form centers of excellence," Wiggins said. "Without a doubt swimming is a center of excellence. We are trying to raise all the sports to that level. We started a program called After Academy Athletics, where we take our third through sixth graders and start teaching them the basics of sports."
Howard said she has a second vision to get the OCA name "out there" and allow the Lions' swimmers an opportunity to demonstrate their faith.
"Do I want them to be awesome swimmers? Yes. But most of all I want them to be good Christians and show the people what it is like to be a Christian and to share that. And to show that being a Christian doesn't mean you have to be wimpy."