Lowell Catholic/Innovation Academy Swim Team

An unlikely group of swimmers fills the pool at Lowell High School between the hours of six and eight most weeknights. It was the only time slot available, and in its first year of existence, the co-ed co-op team from Lowell Catholic and Innovation Academy Charter School jumped right in.


“They’re just so excited to be there,” said Kate McLean, one of the head coaches. “That is a super hard time to get to. It’s cold, it’s dark, and they just keep showing up.”


The late time slot gives McLean time to wrap up her day job as a teacher at Daley Middle School in Lowell. The same is true for her co-head coach Lindsey Day, a kindergarten teacher in Lexington.

“It works out really well that we have a later time that both Kate and I can make it to,” said Day, 24, who swam in college at Keene State. “I’ve been a swimmer my whole life, and I’ve always wanted to coach high school swimming.”


The enthusiasm among the coaches and swimmers is palpable, with many of the athletes seizing their first opportunity to be a part of a swim team.


“I love swimming, I was just never on a team because I didn’t have much time,” said senior captain Alyx Dunn from Innovation. “My family would always call me a fish when I was younger because I never wanted to get out of the pool.”


She’s a volleyball player, and the rigorous full-body swimming workouts are getting her in great shape for that. Elly McKenna, a senior captain from Lowell Catholic, also plays volleyball, and is using swimming to strengthen for tennis this year.

“Swim itself is super hard . . . , ” said McKenna. “I go home and I just go right to bed because it’s such a workout.”


McKenna is a lifeguard, but has never competed on a swim team before. Senior captain Meghan Spence from Innovation is also a lifeguard, but she’s been swimming competitively since age 11.


“We have swimmers at all different levels on our team,” said Spence. “They’re really designing the sets in a good way so that we’re all getting something out of it.”


At practice, the pool is split into three lanes focusing on technique and three advanced lanes where the goal is getting faster.


On the first day of practice, a few participants were beginners in a quite literal sense. Lowell Catholic athletic director Jack Fletcher recalled asking how it went. “Oh, good,” he was told. “Only two people that couldn’t swim.”


The program started this year because of strong interest among seventh- and eighth-graders at Lowell Catholic serious enough about swimming to make such a team a prerequisite in their choice of a high school. Early in the process, it became clear that they were not alone.


“We had a meeting,” said Fletcher, “and we were kind of surprised at the number of kids that were really interested in swimming.”


Still, he knew that the program needed more bodies to be viable, so he reached out to Innovation Academy. Youngsters there were interested too, so Fletcher went about finding a coaching staff. The former Chelmsford athletic director told his old friend Harriet Kinnett that he was starting a team, and the longtime Chelmsford swim coach recommended McLean, her assistant, and Day, who has coached at a Chelmsford summer team since she was 13.


In their first year at the helm of this program, the two want to establish camaraderie and friendship between two groups of swimmers from different schools. They randomly assigned a “meet buddy” for each swimmer.


There are five boys on the team of about 25, and they have gotten to know each other quickly.

“With a small group of guys, we have a really tight bond with one another,” said Pierre Lessard, a freshman at Innovation.


Boys swim in the same races as girls up until the playoffs, but competition is balanced and the girls aren’t intimidated.


“I don’t feel at a disadvantage; I feel like it’s just another goal to work toward,” said Dunn, the senior captain from Innovation. She’s beginning to bond with everyone in that pool who loves swimming as much as she does.


“I want them to really enjoy it,’’ said McLean, “and I want them to come back next year.”


The coaches and captains want to make sure that everyone feels welcome, boys and girls from both schools, seventh through twelfth grade, regardless of skill level.


“I know I’m not the greatest swimmer either,” said McKenna, “but if I can smile at someone when they get out of the pool and make them feel like they did a good job, then I feel accomplished.”


That mature, vocal leadership is exactly what Day took this job to help foster.


“I’ve loved seeing some of these kids grow as leaders on the team, just in these past few weeks,” she said.


Everyone involved hopes that some day the program will be able to compete in the Catholic Central conference, but right now they’re all overjoyed at the chance to swim.


And to win occasionally. On Dec. 26, the team beat Matignon, 88-70, its first triumph.


Photograph by Jason Bartlett


Article Originally Printed in The Boston Globe




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