LUTCHER — While the Lutcher High School swim team has enjoyed tremendous success, having won 16 boys state titles and one girls state title, it also has had to overcome its share of adversity.
The hard-working, dedicated students who swim competitively have had to practice at a local outdoor pool, regardless of the temperatures. Or, if it got really bad, they had to travel to Baton Rouge, New Orleans or even Thibodaux to find indoor facilities. As a result, the coaches had to stagger their practice times, sending freshmen in the mornings and seniors in the afternoons — or vice versa.
“It was a challenge,” said Kelly Richardson, who spent six years as an assistant coach before taking over the team this year. “We definitely had to be creative.”
There also were Lutcher swim team members that didn’t even know their own teammates.
“We had so many different practices, we didn’t even know half of the freshmen,” said senior swimmer Kami Dufresne. “We never saw them.”
But those days are over now, thanks to the brand spanking new St. James Aquatic Center. Located on the Lutcher High School campus, the $3.2 million facility, which includes an eight-lane regulation size pool as well as a warm-up pool, officially opened in May to serve the needs of all students in St. James Parish.
St. James High in Vacherie also has a swim team and uses the facility, as well as all the middle schools in the parish.
“We have a great deal of community support for swimming,” said Brent Labat, a Vacherie native who serves as the Aquatics Director for the parish.
Perhaps because of its proximity to the Mississippi River, St. James Parish has a strong swimming tradition. Children can join competitive swim clubs as early as 6 years of age and can begin school competitions as early as fourth grade. But there was no indoor facility for practices or meets.
They used the local pool in Gramercy. During inclement weather, swimmers were sometimes bussed to Baton Rouge to the Crawfish Aquatics facility or, more recently, to the newer facility in Thibodaux.
It wasn’t an ideal situation for anyone. Then, in 2013, Lutcher swimmer Kadam Williamson, Kelly Richardson’s son, was killed in a car accident on his way to meet the team, which would then board the bus to travel to Baton Rouge.
“Once that happened, that’s when the talk started happening about building our own pool,” Richardson said. “We went to the School Board and told them we needed our own pool, our own facility. They had talked about it before; I think it helped jump-start it.”
It certainly is expected to help keep the swimming tradition going in the parish. This year Lutcher has 60 swimmers working daily — together — in the pool. St. James High School had one swimmer last year. It has eight this year.
“This takes us to the next level,” senior Caroline Keller said. “We see people getting better all the time.”