News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local Interest

June 19, 2014

Thompson leaves big legacy in TH swimming

Former South, Torpedoes coach headed to Pennsylvania

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute South and Terre Haute Torpedoes swimming coach Jeff Thompson said that nearly everything he’s learned about his sport were “self-taught”.

That doesn’t mean Thompson doesn’t have coaches he looks up to. One of them is Richard Shoulberg, a renowned coach based out of Germantown, Pa. Thompson called him the “John Wooden of swim coaches”.

When the opportunity for Thompson to work with one of his heroes came up, he had to take advantage of it, regardless of the strong ties he has to Terre Haute.

Thompson will be leaving South and the Torpedoes to take over as head coach for boys and girls at Germantown Academy in suburban Philadelphia. He’ll also be the coach at the Germantown Aquatic Club, the equivalent to the Torpedoes. He’ll work with Shoulberg, coach emeritus at the school.

“It was an opportunity to work with arguably the best high school coach ever in Richard Shoulberg. His resume is absolutely incredible,” Thompson said. “I’ve read books that have been written about him. He’s been a study from afar. That was the most attractive bit for me.”

Thompson has spent 17 years as a swimming instructor and coach in Terre Haute. He was also influential in lobbying for the Vigo County Schools Aquatic Center that is to be built at Vorhees Park. Ground will be broken on the new facility on Monday.

Thompson has been with the Torpedoes since 1997. He took over as South’s girls coach in 1998 and boys coach in 2001. The lions’ share of his swimming background comes from being in Terre Haute. Naturally, he departs with mixed feelings.

“I love Terre Haute and I love my job here. Its been a great ride and a great place to cut my teeth and as an educator. I’m scared and I’m nervous, but in a good way,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the process began for him in April. He said the job had to be as good or better for his wife and children and they had to want him more than he wanted them. Thompson was satisfied that Germantown fit the bill on both counts.

He also admitted that it’s a personal challenge much in the same manner as a challenge that might face one of his swimmers. This rings true for himself and his family.

“The is an opportunity for my children and I want my children to do other things someday. This can show my kids it’s OK to stretch myself. You can do that in other places besides Terre Haute. I always push my athletes and I had to practice what I was preaching,” Thompson said.

When Thompson began his involvement in what was to become the Torpedoes in 1997, Terre Haute still had two swim clubs — the Terre Haute Aquatic Club and the Wabash Valley Swim Club — and he played a large role in merging them into one.

The Torpedoes grew from 60 members to its current 300. Thompson helped start a Learn To Swim program as well as a popular Masters Program.

“We became a complete aquatics program. It used to be, if a kid tried out and couldn’t swim the length of the pool, we’d suggest they take lessons at the Y. Now we can teach them,” Thompson said.

At South, Thompson’s girls teams never had a losing season and he turned the Braves’ boys program around from a winless first season to a sectional championship in 2010, just the second in school history. Several South swimmers have gone on to the Division I level and Evan Austin was a 2012 Paraolympian. Of course, many of them were also in the Torpedoes too.

“It’s more of a team atmosphere [at South]. The club is so large and swimmers are swimming in so many different events, by the time it’s over, everyone’s ready to leave and no one knows who won or lost. In high school, the score is on the scoreboard. It makes it a different experience,” Thompson said.

The biggest feather in Thompson’s cap, however, might be the Aquatics Center, a building he’ll ultimately not coach in. Thompson has lobbied for a facility for over a decade. Working in partnership with Vigo County School Corporation, the final preparations for the facility were hammered out in February.

Thompson admitted that had his opportunity to move on come last October, when debate was on-going about the facility, he probably wouldn’t have considered it.

“That was one of the things that was tough to swallow. I put my heart and soul into the plan. I took three swings at it. Two through the city in the early 2000s, one through the school corporation. It’s been a vision I think our community deserves,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he won’t be a stranger, however. He departs for Pennsylvania in August, but will keep tabs on progress here. He’ll have three nieces that will ultimately compete in the facility.

“It’s moving along now. This thing is going to happen. It’s in a good place. I can comfortably walk away knowing it’s going to get done,” Thompson said.

There is a school board meeting on Monday, but South has not announced who Thompson’s successor will be yet

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