Beaming with enthusiasm and energy, first-year First Presbyterian Christian Academy teacher and swim coach Jonnie Larson said she is just scratching the surface of what she’d like to accomplish with her swim squad.
Larson became the swim coach when she was hired as a full-time educator in October. The Georgia Southern graduate wants to build the Highlander swim team and grow the sport she is passionate about for others to enjoy.
Larson, who is from Dacula in Gwinnett County, started her aquatic career when she joined her neighborhood swim team in fourth grade.
“Where I grew up, it is common for every neighborhood to have its own swim team,” she said. “Every neighborhood has its own pool. Every high school in the county has a swim team … and Swim Atlanta, the year-round team, is very popular and just down the road from my neighborhood. They had built a Swim Atlanta pool the year I was graduating from high school. Swimming was a big deal where I am from. When (FPCA Principal) Mrs. (Shannon) Hickey offered me the job, I told her I was interested in being the swim coach because of my experience and my passion.”
Larson’s gung-ho attitude has served the FPCA team well as four of her swimmers already have qualified for the state meet.
“It’s been outstanding,” she said of her first season. “These swimmers, I told them from the beginning how passionate I was about swimming and if they wanted to go to state, they had to push past their comfort zone … and half the team has qualified for state, and I expect more of them to qualify after tomorrow’s (Saturday) meet. I expect a few of them to drop more time and have everyone at state by the end of the month.”
Saturday’s meet was at Georgia Tech — the same place the state meet will be held Jan. 31. The swimmers have one final chance to qualify for state on Jan. 23.
To help her squad, Larson has set up a Jan. 16 fundraiser at the Liberty County YMCA pool.
“Swimming is very expensive,” she said. “We have to cover our meet entry fees, travel expenses, swim suits — and swimsuits are very expensive and have to be replaced often because of the chlorine.”
The coach said the swim-a-thon starts at 6:30 p.m. Anyone interested in helping the team can pledge $1 per lap, per hour.
“For example, if a swimmer swims 60 laps in 60 minutes, then the person would donate $60 to our team,” Larson said, adding that most of her swimmers are capable of a minimum of 60 laps in 60 minutes. The per-lap donation is not the only way to help, though; the team will accept lump-sum donations of any amount.
Checks should be made payable to the First Presbyterian Christian Academy Booster Club, and donations are tax-deductible.
Larson would like to see FPCA host a swim meet and said she is working on setting up a partnership with a school in Statesboro to host a meet there next season.
Larson already has earned a few accolades for her hard work. In addition to becoming FPCA’s swim coach, she also took over the FPCA boys’ cross-country team last season and led the varsity runners to the Region 2-AA title. Larson was named the GISA Region 2-AA Boys’ Cross-Country Coach of the Year.