20 Sports, 1 Team at Jeffersonville High
By Carlos Molina
The swimming program is one of the most dominant sports at Jeffersonville High School in Jeffersonville, Indiana. But the Red Devils’ success doesn’t come just from swimming but from a commitment to hard work in the weight room.
Most people don’t associate weight training with swimming, but they share a connection. The JHS Swim Team supplements their swimming practices with pumping iron to increase speed, strength, power, and reduce the risk of injuries.
The JHS swimming program is headed by Mike Pepa, who took over from legendary high school coach Keith Gast (now at Brownsburg High School). Pepa has coached at the college level for the University of Louisville and has won high school state titles as a coach before coming to JHS. “Some people departmentalize sports -- they say each sport has different needs, or this sport doesn’t need to lift, all that,” says Pepa.
“The fact is, all athletes are human, and there are fundamentals to athletic movement and explosion that are the same because we are all human. It’s just that the work capacity in sports differs,” says Danny Struck, who along with Pepa has been supervising the team’s weight training sessions. “Our swim team has that figured out, and they use it to excel.”
“Since I already had years of strength programs and training, I was able to bypass the beginning portions and start doing things at a higher level right away,” says Kevin Gast, a sophomore at Franklin College and a former swimmer for JHS and Brownsburg High Schools. “This helped me develop a collegiate training program earlier and adjust better to the rigorous college environment.”
The weight training workouts at JHS take a “Brawn at Dawn” approach and are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursdays from 5:45am to 6:45am. The workouts are based on the core lifts that reach all athletes, which are the bench press, squat, clean, deadlift, and variations of each). During swim weights, however, it gets slightly more sport specific to their needs as individuals and team. This extra workout is adjusted monthly to help progress the in-class lifts and uses many BFS strength training principles.
“I decided to replace our typical morning practices in the pool with strength training due to its importance in our sport,” says Pepa. “It’s a way to supplement our performance in the water -- speed through strength -- and to minimize potential injuries due to repetitive arms movements, much like a pitcher in baseball.”
Pepa says that in the four short weeks since the morning program was embedded, he has noticed tremendous growth and improvement. Not only physical strength in big lifts such as a bench press or a squat, but a greater explosion off the blocks and better flexibility.
Rachel Walker, a multiple-time all-starter and now a freshman at Bellarmine University, has won many awards for the Red Devils in her four years as a student. “It has helped me a lot,” says Walker. “It’s what got me into lifting and made me a lot stronger than I was. Overall, it allowed me to perform better at the bigger meets.”
Although the morning weight training program has been a breakthrough with the athletes, it doesn’t end there. The swimmers also part take in the JHS Sports Performance Class. The 45-minute class focuses on more than just breaking personal maxes, but also on improving speed, flexibility, explosiveness, and mental toughness. “While there is something about those morning workouts as a team to build team unity, there is also something to be said for working out as an entire athletic department to let other sports see you excel, and having the whole school pull for you. We say ‘20 sports, 1 team!’”
Sports performance ranges from different lifting styles, from Olympic lifts to power lifts to just working out your “unused” muscles. The results? Since the sports performance class began in 2012, the boys’ swim team won the conference in 2012, 2013, and 2015; sectionals in 2012, 2013, and 2014; and placed in the top ten in the state in 2012 and 2013. They also broke all 14 school and pool records. The girls’ program has been equally impressive.
The Red Devil’s Girls Swim Team hadn’t won a conference or sectional title since 2006, but took a jump in 2015 and won both the conference and sectionals. Add to that all 15 school and pool records were broken by the girls since the beginning of the program.
“Swimmers are conditioned to work hard,” says Struck. “Many of them go to morning and evening swimming and lift in class. Of course, kids need to rest, but many of us find that with extra rest and monitoring their nutrition, our bodies are capable of so much more than we think. Swimmers are prime examples of this. If you want crazy results, you have to do crazy things.”
The JHS swimming teams are one of the school’s most successful programs not just in wins, but also in sending kids off to college to do a sport. JHS swimming has sent swimmers all over the country to compete for schools that include Purdue, Indiana University, Ball State, Franklin College, McKendree College, West Point, Center College, Bellarmine University, Cumberland College, and Rose-Hulman.
“One of my favorite things about the class is when they come back to lift, especially when they tell me that they were ahead of the game when they got to college. It makes me feel good and validated knowing we successfully prepared them for the next level,” says Struck.
Even though Struck pulls triple duty as JHS High’s wrestling coach, the middle school football coach, and the head strength and conditioning coach, he is especially proud of his swimmers saying “I believe our swim team’s buy-in has led them to have more all-state kids in classes than any other sport.
20 Sports - 1 Team
It's not just the swim team though, as the boys’ track team just won another sectional title, the boys’ basketball team is ranked 10th in the state, and the boys’ baseball team won 4 of their last 6 conference and sectional titles since this class began. In 2013 and 2014, the JHS Football Team won 7 and 8 games, respectively, each season when the Head Football Coach Lonnie Oldham and Coach Struck ran the class together with more than 60 kids in class from those teams.
The Red Devil’s soccer and tennis teams have also experienced massive success with a number of their all-conference and all-state participants working out in class with other athletes. The JHS Wrestling Team has won 6 sectional titles as well as a Greco Roman state title. “It's fun that all our kids work together in class. They aren’t from one sport or another, they are from our school, and they all push each other to be better,” says Struck.
While most sports have begun supplementing strength and conditioning within their sports teams, sometimes it’s still new to the swimming world. Jeffersonville High School’s athletes know the benefits, which is why they all do it and reap the benefits!