The Thomas S. Wootton High School swimming and diving team was shocked last April by the sudden death of former 14-year coach Howard Blume.
When the Patriots took to the water for Friday’s first practice, they said they decided 2012-13 wouldn’t be a season of mourning but one of honor and memorial.
Last year’s Class 4A-3A state championship runner-up, Wootton’s girls team has steadily risen up the rankings in recent years and has been highly touted by coaches during the offseason as this year’s team to beat.
The boys finished third at states last winter and will also be a major contender this season.
“It’s definitely different but I think it unites us. I think we are motivated even more to try and win states in his honor,” senior Allie Klatzkin said.
The Patriots will wear special swim caps this season that say “For Blume.”
And though his absence poolside will be an adjustment not only for Wootton but the entire swimming community, there won’t be too much of a transition period to first-year Patriots coach Jacqueline Emr’s regime.
The 2005 Wootton graduate and three-year Patriots assistant coach has been extremely invested in Wootton swimming and instrumental in the Patriots’ recent rise — Wootton’s boys won the 2010 Montgomery County Championship.
“Our kids always kind of looked at Howard as that quirky grandfather figure, that’s the reason so many of them continued to come back, his leadership, his support; his Blumeisms. Though the dynamic will change, we still do have that family atmosphere that is so important to a swim team,” Emr said. “To be able to come back to my territory, being a part of a team experience where I had such a powerful experience, it’s extra exciting.”
Having talent and depth, which the Patriots do on both sides but especially the girls team, is only half the battle.
Creating effective lineups that efficiently put those tools to good use plays a major role in teams’ success.
In addition to her three years alongside Blume, Emr has coached Montgomery County Swim League for the past eight summers.
Klatzkin said the Patriots have full faith in her ability to craft championship lineups.
“[Emr] did a lot of the work behind the scenes and she was really helpful [with lineups]. She really has kept the team together for a while,” Klatzkin said.
Wootton’s girls team will be extremely versatile with the return of junior Kristina Li, who broke former Poolesville standout Cara Chuang’s 2009 record in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2012 Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, classmates Scarlett Sun and Jessica Cheng along with seniors Klatzkin and Kimberly Klausing, among others.
Last year’s 100 breaststroke state champion Austin Dickey, Matt Gibson, Kevin Fu and Michael Fu help make Wootton’s boys quite dynamic as well.
This winter will be a powerful one for Wootton, both in the water and emotionally. But the Patriots said they do not intend to harp on last spring’s tragedy. Instead, they intend to move forward in admiration and honor of their former coach.
“This was [Blume’s] baby. If the girls go out and win states, we came so close to winning states last year and have a distinct shot again this year, that will be a really big tribute to him,” Emr said.