MOUNT PLEASANT — Frank Michalowski didn’t want it to come to this.
In the back of his mind, he didn’t want to retire as swimming coach at Case High School until he had logged 25 years with the boys and 30 with the girls. So, even with his 66th birthday coming next February, Michalowski saw himself coaching until 2024, when he would have achieved that 30-year milestone with the girls program.
MOUNT PLEASANT — As the Case High School girls swim team prepares for its first practice of …
But that all started to change in August, when it was announced that inspections revealed Case’s pool was no longer structurally sound and would not be used this school year. While nothing definitive has been announced beyond that, Michalowski is concerned that Case’s pool cannot be used again.
And, after being rendered a team without a home, Michalowski has reluctantly decided to resign as coach of the Case boys swim team, whose season is during the winter. He will complete this season as girls coach and then decide whether he wants continue with that program.
In a letter written Sept. 3 to the parents of Case swimmers, Michalowski wrote, “Obviously, the lack of a pool at Case and the new conflicts this creates with my personal schedule were the biggest factors.”
Michalowski reiterated those feelings when contacted Monday afternoon.
“When we had our meeting (in August with Racine Unified School District representatives), and we didn’t know where we were going to be less than a week before the start of the season, you have to throw out all your planning for the season,” Michalowski said. “Nobody’s telling me where we’re going to be and what’s going to happen with the pool.”
The proposed Unified budget for fiscal year 2019, which runs from this July 1 to June 30, 2019, contains money to assess and address the Case pool situation. Asked whether that would change his mind about resigning if money stays in the final budget, Michalowski replied, “No. That’s an iffy thing. That’s a gray area, and there’s been no communication with me.”
“The three times previous it was on the books to repair or replace the pool, it hasn’t been done,” he said. “So what’s the guarantee? Things change, like a boiler might have to be replaced somewhere, and I understand that.”
Stacy Tapp, chief of communications and community engagement for Unified, said the district is soliciting "requests for proposals" from contractors that will provide district officials an idea of whether the current pool is repairable or in need of replacement and the costs related to those options.
The first month of the season has underscored Michalowski’s concerns. Case commuted to Park for practice until school resumed Sept. 4. Since then, the team has been transported to Carthage College in Kenosha for practices, which has been a challenge.
“It’s almost a half-hour to get down there and a half-hour to get back, and I want to get the girls out by 5:30 p.m. so they can get home at a decent time so they can do their homework,” said Michalowski. He has been a stickler for his swimmers succeeding academically, throughout his time at Case.
Michalowski and his team will have to adjust again later this month, when Carthage’s season starts and the pool will no longer be available for Case to rent. At that point, Case will practice at either Park or Horlick and will have to work around the schedules of both programs, meaning the Eagles will likely have to practice at night.
With the boys season falling mostly during the winter months, that’s a headache Michalowski wants to avoid.
“We’re going to have to go in the evening, and it’s going to be the winter season,” he said. “The thing is, if it snows or whatever, I don’t see parents wanting their child, if they’re driving, to drive across town to get to the pool, depending on what their situation is.”
Another major factor for Michalowski is not having an assistant coach.
He has never had a paid assistant during his time at Case, and only occasionally has he had a volunteer assistant. But with the added stress of having to practice at different locations, Michalowski is finding it increasingly difficult to single-handedly manage his swimmers.
“Let’s say you have 40 girls,” he said. “There’s a safety factor there. And I don’t understand the mentality of someone saying, ‘OK, you’re not going to have an assistant coach and you’ve got 40 girls.’ I’ve got to coach 40 girls and then work with the (junior varsity), which is a huge part of your program. An assistant coach could work with the junior varsity and I could work with the varsity.”
Michalowski offers another reason why an assistant is so important to him.
“One of the issues here is my personal life, where I’ve been bowling on Wednesday nights, and I’m committed to that league with my son, Nate,” he said. “That’s precious time for me.
“If I could have an assistant coach who could take over that practice and I could do my bowling, which I have been doing for years and everybody knows that. ... I’ve had to put my social life on hold.”
Michalowski’s career resumé is extensive, which includes earning a combined 17 All-Racine County Coach of the Year awards. His greatest success has come with the boys program, where he has compiled a remarkable 22-year dual meet record of 146-19-2 and coached three individual WIAA Division 1 state champions.
More than a coach
But he has been so much more than that to the swimmers, at least some of them say.
“Frank Michalowski is a coach-turned-friend to hundreds of swimmers,” 1996 Case graduate Stacey Kiefer said. “Frank coached me over 20 years ago, and yet we still stay in touch. He attended my wedding, and he knows my family.
“He has been a huge influence in the lives of many of the swimmers he coached,” Kiefer continued. “He has been a mentor and a fatherly figure for decades to swimmers who have trained and competed under him. He has coached high school kids with the highest GPAs, sent them on to top-notch schools with scholarships, and given them the encouragement to be great in all aspects of life.”
Added 2015 graduate Elizabeth Skantz, “He has some of the most extensive knowledge, experience and accomplishments in swimming of any coach I encountered, but he teaches his swimmers so much more. Some of the most valuable things I’ve learned from Frank and carried with me so far include respect, teamwork, perseverance and the value and rewards of hard work.
“He was there for me as a mentor who provided a listening ear, emotional support and advice. He genuinely cared about each and every one of his swimmers.”
Correction: The story incorrectly stated the dates for Unified's 2019 fiscal year. The error has been corrected. This story has been added to since publication to explain the district's plan of action regarding pool repairs.