HIRAM _ For the first time in years, there is reason for real excitement in Hiram College swimming.
The school is beginning a campaign to raise funds for a new athletic facility that will include a sparkling new swimming pool.
While the new facility alone justifies excitement surrounding the future of swimming at Hiram, the real reason to get excited is the return of Jack Groselle, the former All-American and Division III national champion who hopes to guide the Terriers into a new era of success.
Groselle, a Hiram resident, coached Hiram's swimmers once before, but was lured away several years ago to become a Portage County commissioner.
"I had a lot of fun as a commissioner, but I did miss coaching," said Groselle.
When his political life ended, Groselle saw an exciting, new opportunity to once again take over the Hiram swim team.
Even though the program had dropped from 40 swimmers when he left to the current roster of 10 swimmers and three divers, Groselle recognized a new commitment at Hiram to developing a winning athletic tradition.
"I think the whole campus and administration is much more committed to athletics, more than they ever have been," said Groselle. "We live in a different era, just from a life standpoint. Hiram is realizing that people are focused on being healthy, and athletics play into that."
Hiram's commitment includes the future athletic facility and the college's recent move from the Ohio Athletic Conference to the North Coast Athletic Conference.
That move to the NCAC was another reason Groselle chose to come back.
Groselle loves a challenge, and building a winning swimming tradition in the tough NCAC is a formidable task.
"We are in the toughest conference in the nation for swimming, bar none," said Groselle. "Five of the top 10 swim teams in the country are in the NCAC. Kenyon has been the No. 1 team in the country for close to 20 years. Denison has been No. 2 for a number of years. Allegheny is always among the top teams in the country, and then you throw in Earlham, Wooster and Wittenberg. They have at least four teams at the top every year.
"It's a real challenge, and I want us to be able to be compete. It will probably take four or five years, but I plan to be competitive. We were just getting up to that point when I was here before."
Hiram is convinced Groselle is up to the challenge.
"Jack brings a lot of intensity to Hiram," said athletic director Bobby Thomas. "He brings back that alumni connection we want with all of our programs. But beyond that he is a very good person to have leading a program. He is dependable, he has a great attitude, great intensity and great confidence in what he is doing."
The first step for Groselle in rebuilding the program is convincing some of the area's top swimmers to commit to bringing their talents to Hiram.
Groselle's son Jason already plans to come to Hiram. Jason is a senior at Crestwood, and he is the kind of swimmer who can jump-start the Terriers' program. Groselle also has a daughter, Beth, who is a sophomore at Crestwood, and is considered one of the best young swimmers in the state.
Another source of talent could come from Groselle's involvement in Solon's United States Swimming team.
"I coach the USS team in Solon, so I know a lot of swimmers in the Lake Erie district," said Groselle. "Besides coaching, I also swim against these same kids we are recruiting. Both Jason and I have swum against these kids and we know them. We'll get some of them at Hiram. A number of them have applied already that I know we'll get. Those kids could make the nationals their freshman year. That's what we have to be able to do to compete in the NCAC."
Groselle's goal is to have 10 freshmen boys and 10 freshmen girls on Hiram's team next season. In five years, he hopes to have 60 to 80 swimmers on the roster.
"We'd like 10 from each team to make it to nationals," said Groselle. "That's a high goal. The last time we took as many as four to nationals was my senior year."
Groselle is used to setting and accomplishing high goals.
In 1976, he was the Division III national champion when he competed in the 100 freestyle and the 200 freestyle and relay. He still owns six of the college's swimming records.
The 45-year-old Groselle is still setting records. This year, in Minneapolis, he shattered four world records in the 45-to-49 age group: the 100 freestyle (53.90 in long-course meters), the 50 freestyle (24.94), the 200 freestyle (2:01.54) and the 100 breaststroke (1:12.29). He also owns three other world records in the 40 to 44 age group, which he set in College Station, Texas, in 1998.
To help reach his coaching goals at Hiram, Groselle already has some talented swimmers in place, including junior Matt Davis (Stow) and Kyna Barber. Davis has the Hiram record in the 200 breaststroke (2:17.8) and Barber owns two college records in the 100-meter fly stoke (1:05.59) and the 200-meter fly stroke (2:29.7).
"Both Matt and Kyna are very hard workers and real leaders," said Groselle. "Both are captains. Matt has been working really hard calling and e-mailing recruits."
Leading the Terriers' swim team into a new, competitive era would add to the Groselle legacy at Hiram College.
"Hiram is very important to me," said Groselle. "My ancestors are partly responsible for Hiram being in Hiram. Two of my ancestors were at the meeting when they decided where Hiram was going to be. They were the first chairmen of the college's board of trustees ... we've had a number of generations go to Hiram."
Groselle even met his wife, Nancy, at Hiram. Nancy, who was a diver for the Terriers, now coaches Crestwood High School's enormously successful, first-year swimming team.
"When I left Hiram, I'd never really planned on coming back, but my son Jason wanted to go to school here," said Groselle. "The other reason I came back is the commitment from the administration to what was going to happen in athletics here in the next three to four years. It's going to be a real challenge, but the time is right at Hiram to do some great things."