Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Bishop Dunne goes global to rejuvenate swimming program
DUNCANVILLE — At first, the words were sung in English.
It was Austin Burleson’s birthday, and though he’s never been particularly fond of celebrating the occasion, the Bishop Dunne swim team serenaded him on this October day, 16 synced voices filling the tiny white bus with the warmth of a familiar tune.
Then Mohamed Sharaf spoke up. He always does, often joking around by flexing and calling himself the Beast of the Middle East.
“Why don’t I sing in Arabic?” he announced.
So he did. Happy birthday to you.
Karl Migacz chimed in. Polish. Tien Hoang sang in Vietnamese, Sean Li in Mandarin and Pedro Soares in Portuguese.
It was a little different, a little unexpected. It was Bishop Dunne.
“It couldn’t be any other way,” senior Stephanie Dossett said.
It’s funny with swimming. The sport at the highest levels has largely become exclusive, top success attained by those who join premiere clubs at young ages.
Coach Robbie Zeske had to make Dunne as inclusive as possible. She arrived in 2007, finding a barely existent team.
But old yearbook spreads proved that Dunne swimming once meant something, that it wasn’t a team of just three swimmers, no scheduled practices and a training pool light on chlorine and absent of lane ropes. That it wasn’t what it was when she took over.
Zeske was puzzled. She could have accepted the status quo.
No one would have paid much mind. But she yearned for a real team and decided on inviting anyone to swim.
It didn’t matter if you couldn’t swim, and some barely could. Of the about 12 more who joined, the majority hadn’t dived into a pool or swam more than two laps. They knew a freestyle that looked more like a dog -paddle and that was about it.
Zeske spent a lot of time in the water that fall. Dossett, then a freshman, helped her out as they taught kids how to use their lungs properly, learn the strokes, dive and train their bodies to handle the lengths of races. It wasn’t perfect.
“Four even at the end of the season were scared to swim down to the other end because it was too deep,” Zeske said. “One student in the middle of the race decided it was too deep, and they panicked.”
But Zeske remembers C.J. York.
“Don’t get me crying,” she said.
York went to all the practices that season. He listened to all the instructions but rarely had much to say. He couldn’t dive. At the team’s last meet, he set up the diving blocks for his race without telling anyone. He dived in, shouting in triumph as he touched the water.
Since that first year, much has changed. The team is bigger but still not too large, having about 20 swimmers each year. They now train at Duncanville Natatorium, a facility that actually has lane ropes.
But the early spirit hasn’t faded away. Bishop Dunne took on everyone three years ago, and that is still the case.
More than all levels of swimmers, the team has attracted all backgrounds of people. At a diverse school, the kids on the swim team say their group is the most diverse of any sport at Dunne.
Most of them still have no previous experience before joining. They struggle and learn together and are now finding success.
“I was one of those that doggy paddled to the other end, got tired and was paranoid with goggles and my cap,” junior Taylor Kowalski said. “Now I have more confidence; I can dive off the block and can do any stroke.”
Ten swimmers will compete for Dunne at the TAPPS regional Friday, including those like Sharaf, Kowalski and Jason Simmons.
They hadn’t swum before high school. Now they’re part of Dunne’s swim team.
“There’s not many of us,” Simmons said. “We all come together and help each other out.”