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For high school student-athletes at Prairie, St. Catherine’s and Racine Lutheran, their options are about to increase considerably during the winter months.

Prairie and St. Catherine’s have announced a swimming co-op program for boys and girls, which will start a varsity schedule next school year. Named as coach is Yoav Meiri, a former Olympic swimmer and 20-time Israeli champion who has two children enrolled in Prairie’s middle school.

For wrestling, all three Racine private high schools will join forces on a co-op wrestling program, which is also scheduled to start competition next season. A coaching search for that program is underway.

While Prairie and St. Catherine’s have offered co-op wrestling in the past, this will be the first time swimming is offered at either school. The seeds for this were planted last September, when Prairie athletic director Jason Atanasoff conferred with Mike Arendt, his counterpart at St. Catherine’s.

“Our school president, Dr. Nat Coffman, was a huge swimmer back in high school and college and his wife (Laura) is the water polo coach at Carthage,” Atanasoff said. “They’re big into swimming and he ran the idea by me in the fall.

“I said, ‘I’m not sure if we would have the numbers to field a competitive team. Can I reach out to a few local schools and see if they would be interested in co-oping?’ “

Arendt was immediately on board with the idea. And for the first time in several years, student-athletes at both St. Catherine’s and Prairie will have competitive options beyond basketball.

“I surveyed our students — boys and girls swimming as well as wrestling — and I had a positive enough feedback from that to say there is enough of our student body interested enough to make this a viable option.”

Atanasoff, who will serve as the lead athletic director for swimming — Arendt will serve as the lead for wrestling — has arranged for practices to be held at the Racine Family YMCA, 725 Lake Ave. The co-op will participate in the Southern Lakes Conference and all meets will be on the road.

Could the day happen with Prairie-St. Catherine’s will be able to host its own meets?

“In a perfect world, we would love to have a pool at Prairie some day,” Atanasoff said. “You never know what the future may have in store.”

A huge bonus is that there is a coach with the credentials Meiri offers. The 42-year-old native of Jerusalem represented Israel in the 2000 Summer Olympics at Sydney, Australia, where he swam the butterfly leg of the 17th-place medley relay.

Swimming originally brought him to the United States, where he signed with the University of Minnesota in 1996 and helped the Golden Gophers to the 1998 Big Ten Conference championship. His best finish was second in the 200 butterfly in the 2000 Big Ten championships, when Minnesota went on to tie for seventh in the NCAA Championships.

“I’ve been dreaming of this day since I came to Racine — I moved here in 2004,” said Meiri, whose has two daughters, Julia and Claire, enrolled at Prairie. “I think it’s a great opportunity not only for the school, but for the student-athletes.

“Swimming is a life-long skill even for the non-competitive swimmers. Once you know how to swim, you never forget how to swim. Maybe some day, we can have an Olympian from here.”

St. Catherine’s, Prairie and Lutheran have each been involved in co-op wrestling programs, but this marks the first time all three will form one co-op. St. Catherine’s last had a wrestling program during the 2010-11 season.

For Arendt, this is the start of a new era for St. Catherine’s athletics.

“I see this as an evolution,” he said. “Our enrollment is going back up, we’ve consolidated the Catholic schools in the area to be Siena Catholic Schools and I think this shows a commitment to reaching all sectors of our student-athletes — to give them extra opportunities to get involved.”

  • Arendt said St. Catherine’s is in the final stages of interviews for a new girls basketball coach. Tom Molbeck, who has led the program the last three years, has decided not to return.

“By the end of next week, we hope to have a girls basketball coach,” he said.

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