Something is in the water at St. Joan of Arc School in LaPlace.
Ever since it began a competitive swim program in 2001, the Catholic elementary school has earned an amazing 11 Metro League swim titles.
At the most recent Metro League championship, held Oct. 20 at St. Martin’s Episcopal School, St. Joan of Arc’s boys’ and girls’ swim teams each placed second, their combined scores making the school the competition’s overall winner.
“It was an uphill battle because some of the boys were playing football that morning and couldn’t participate, and we had some of the kids coming in after (playing) soccer,” said Michelle Jensen, the team’s coach of seven years. “I had to do some shuffling with the relays, but it all panned out. The kids swam to the best of their potential and fast enough to come out on top.”
A total of 18 schools competed in the championship meet, with 16 schools involved in the girls’ races and 14 in the boys’ division. The meet’s 48 events included relays and individual events in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. St. Joan of Arc’s 2012 team is made up of 32 swimmers in the eligible grades of fifth through eighth grade.
“I like seeing how excited they are when they win as a group. They’re always standing around the side of the pool or in the deck area, cheering each other on,” said Paula Soileau, team moderator and a St. Joan of Arc pre-K3 teacher. “They wanted to win! They want to keep the tradition that we have here for swimming alive.”
The team was developed by Joey Brady, a St. Joan of Arc parishioner and school parent who wanted to expand to a school setting the sport made popular by the River Parishes Swim League, a summertime league open to children ages 4-18.
Because St. Joan of Arc does not have a pool on its campus, the school rents pool time at Riverlands Country Club in LaPlace for its practice sessions during the August-to-October swim season.
Because other activities – such as cheerleading and football – run simultaneously, practice is offered after school three to four times a week. Swimmers are expected to show up for practice whenever they can fit it into their schedules, Jensen said.
“I’m big on (teaching) race technique and putting in your practice time,” said Jensen, who focuses on helping her swimmers perfect their starts, turns and finishes. “My feeling is that they are there (at practice) for such a limited amount of time, let’s make it worth it.”
Eighth grader Wesley Melancon, who took second place in the 50-yard breaststroke and third in the 50-yard freestyle, said he loves swimming “because it is the only sport that really depends on me.” He said swimmers develop a sixth sense about who is leading the pack in a given race.
“I’m the only person that can control what I do,” Wesley said. “I like the breast stroke because it doesn’t take a lot of strength; you can just glide through the water. It’s easy for me.”
Making the team’s latest accomplishment all the more impressive was the season’s slow start thanks to Hurricane Isaac. Of the swim team’s 32 members, 15 saw their homes receive floodwaters.
“This was the least amount of time we’ve been in the pool in a season,” said Jensen, noting that the start of practice had to be postponed until the end of September.
Although Hurricane Katrina didn’t affect LaPlace directly, the team swam with the Capitol City Swim League in Baton Rouge for a few years until the Metro League got back on its feet. St. Joan of Arc won all three titles during the displacement.
Many St. Joan of Arc alumni have gone on to compete at the high school level, said Jensen, who was also this year’s assistant swim coach at St. Charles Catholic High, winner of the 2012 boys’ state championship and runner up in the girls’ state championship.
“I just think the quicker I can get out of here, the quicker I can see the ground again,” said eighth grader Emily Sirera of her racing strategy. Emily said she especially enjoys swimming the backstroke.
“I like to be able to look up and see the ceiling or the sky, and not be facing the bottom of the pool,” she said.