Baton Rouge High swimming coach George Newport got animated during a Tuesday practice at the A.C. Lewis YMCA.
As team members finished one set and stopped at the end of the pool, Newport used his arms to show the show the proper technique for finishing at the wall on multiple strokes. Moments later, Newport’s hat came off as he raised his arms over his head to illustrate a streamline motion.
Both instances speak to the passion Newport, a former LSU swimmer, maintains. Newport, now in his 18th year at BRHS, is one of the longest tenured coaches in the Capital City Swim League.
Newport isn’t afraid to voice his opinions about the sport or the local league even as the Bulldogs enjoy their best season since moving back into Division I in 2013.
“We’ve got a good group this year,” Newport said. “The seniors we have are very involved. There’s a group who will do anything you ask — any stroke — and that’s what it takes.”
BRHS won the girls division at Saturday’s first CCSL swim meet edging Dutchtown by four points despite not having an individual winner. Alyssa Kelliher, Nora Scott, Julia Staszkiewiez and Hannah Park had top-three finishes.
The Bulldogs were second to Dutchtown on the boys side. Jack Penniman won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, while George Penniman won the 100 breaststroke. Jamie Nguyen and Jeffrey Lim added top-three finishes.
Newport’s hands-on approach surprises few. A former Rummel swimmer, Newport swam for LSU from 1969-73 and stayed with the sport after his playing days. He was an adaptive physical education teacher and moved from school to school. That gave Newport the freedom to work with then-Tara coach Al Robelot at high school meets at LSU’s Special Olympics pool.
“That was back in the 1980s and the early 1990s,” Newport said. “I was clerk of course. Al Robelot did the starts and was the stroke and turn judge. You didn’t have the teams or swimmers we have now.
“The growth of sport is what truly amazes me. In those days, we had U-High and the teams in the city for the most part. Now you have a lot of schools from surrounding parishes like Dutchtown and Lutcher. Those schools come in with 20 or more kids, which is impressive.”
Newport applauds the work Crawfish Aquatics does hosting the CCSL meets but notes the flaws in the current LHSAA system, especially when it comes to Division I, which includes Louisiana’s largest schools, including its largest private schools.
The differences between divisions are notable, Newport said. Three years ago Baton Rouge High was the Division II runner-up for girls.
“Division I is a quality meet and a quantity meet,” Newport said. “Some of the LHSAA’s qualifying times are faster than U.S. Swimming qualifying times for year-round swimmers. A kid who is strictly a high school swimmer has virtually no chance to make it, and that’s a shame. The times in the other divisions are different.
“I suggested bumping the times up two seconds, which would give those kids a chance to advance. There were people in favor of it, but ultimately the LHSAA decided not to do that.”
Newport doesn’t fault private school teams made up primarily of year-round swimmers.
“It’s not recruiting,” Newport said. “The kids who go to those schools have the means to compete in swimming year round and most of the top swimmers start when they’re young.
“Every now and then the rest of us get a few kids. Most of the freshmen we have are new to the sport.”
Still, Newport relishes the challenge.
“We’ve got the chance to put together solid girls and boys relays and that’s the key,” Newport said.
“A top 5 finish at City (CCSL Championships) and getting in the Top 10 at state … that would be great.”