By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
The last time the Indian River State College men’s swimming and diving team lost a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Championship meet, Jaws was stalking movie goers, gas was $.72 cents a gallon and BIC introduced the world’s first disposable razor.
That was in 1975 for those of you not up on your movie or razor trivia – the year when the IRSC swim dynasty began. Thirty-nine years and 40 championships later (36 straight for the women’s program), everyone involved with the program today sees no reason that the programs can’t continue their winning ways indefinitely.
Incidentally, no other team in any sport at any level has ever come close to achieving what IRSC has – and most likely, never will. The Pioneers redefine excellence each year they add to their championship legacy.
“The key is never getting complacent,” said Athletic Director (and former coach) Scott Kimmelman, who led IRSC to 12 of those NJCAA titles. “Every year is a new one, and recruiting goes on constantly. Because we’re a two-year program, we only have a year, or two years max, for each athlete, so we can never let up.
“Because we’ve got a lot of tradition and a history of winning here, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing.”
That tradition – made timeless on the great wall of champions opposite the pool – keeps former IRSC swimmers returning year after year to not only reminisce but also help recruit.
Kimmelman said the program remains strong and able to attract top talent largely because of its reputation – not only as champions but also as a springboard to eventually swimming for a four-year program.
“This year, we had nearly 100 alumni come back, several from 70s and 80s, and it really hit home with me and the coaching staff, how big a deal what we’ve accomplished is,” Kimmelman said. “One of the swimmers who helped start it all, Reid Lewis, was here, and it’s hard to believe it’s been more than 30 years now (since he left), but we continue to hear stories (from him) that help us understand the legacies.”
During the reunion, Lewis came up on stage and talked about The Shirt. Passed down from year to year to recognize the team’s MVP – sort of as a traveling trophy – he told the story of how the shirt started back when Daytona Beach Community College had a swim program and made it their mission to stop IRSC’s winning streak.
“He talked about how Daytona had T-shirts made that said Dam Up the River, with a picture of a dam blocking the water,” Kimmelman said. “He took offense to that, and had a T-shirt of his own made with a flowing river and a broken dam.”
Following IRSC’s national victory that year, Lewis ripped the T-shirt off of his back, passed it on from swimmer to swimmer, each signing it. Each season, the team’s MVP adds his signature to the shirt, and it’s kept at IRSC for safe-keeping.
“It hasn’t been washed in more than 30 years, so no one would want to wear it any way,” Kimmelman said. “But no one is allowed to wear it. It is certainly something people strive to get.”
The National Swimmer of the Year when he swam for IRSC from 1992-93, Sion Brinn, who took over leadership of the men’s team less than a year ago, said he has a nostalgic desire to want to continue the Pioneers’ championship legacy.
Brinn, who swam for LSU and was a member of the 2000 Great Britain Olympic team, is the first alum to take over the head coaching role after having been at Wright State the past 13 years.
“I celebrated a championship 21 years ago as a swimmer, and I knew I was taking over a very talented team,” Brinn said. “So jumping in as the coach for this landmark victory has very special meaning for me. It’s personal as well as professional.”
As a way to motivate the team a few weeks before Nationals, Brinn said he took a picture of the championship wall and made it look like an artistic drawin,g and then had that put on a T-shirt. It was a reminder to everyone what was at stake.
“It was a great way to explain the history of the wall to the team, no matter what their level of knowledge about the history of the program was,” said Brinn, who jumped into the pool following the 40th straight NJCAA victory. “Every single name up there means something to this program. And having my name up there is really something historic to me.”
Kimmelman said strong athletic programs enjoy the support and financial backing of a strong administration, something he enjoyed as coach and now as athletic director.
The Pioneer swimmers, male and female, have always known everyone at the school – from the janitor to the college president – has their backs.
That’s the way it is with all seven varsity sports at IRSC.
“We enjoy a long, strong level of support, and that’s not always the case at this level of athletics,” Kimmelman said. “I’ve seen this at programs throughout the country, and we’ve seen programs come and go over the years. But we know was have support from top to bottom.”
While swimmers make up the bulk of the NJCAA Championship team each year, diving is also an integral part of the IRSC program and IRSC divers have won numerous national titles through the years to contribute valuable points to the championship totals.
To keep things moving forward, Brinn said it hasn’t taken and will continue not to take much motivation to keep the team hungry for more national championships.
“We are not going to let up. We will continue to work hard from an administrative level down – never letting off the throttle,” Brinn said. “If we are going to lose, someone is going to have to beat us, because we plan to keep winning. I’d love to see the 50th consecutive victory in 10 years, and we will work our butts off to make that happen.”