Shawnee, a town of 30,000 about 45 minutes outside of Oklahoma City, will soon be home to the only two colleges in the entire state offering varsity collegiate swimming and diving.
Starting next school year, St. Gregory's University will offer men's and women's swimming and diving to their athletics program, joining crosstown rival Oklahoma Baptist University, which added swimming and diving in the 2011-2012 school year.
The hope, according to St. Gregory's athletic director Jeff Potter, is that the small Catholic liberal arts university can recruit students it may not have been able to otherwise.
In addition to the aquatic sports, St. Gregory's will add men's lacrosse. While the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the organization the school belongs to, doesn't recognize lacrosse, many NAIA schools have it.
“We wanted to get a niche. Men's lacrosse will be the first program in the state. Swimming, obviously, will be the second. We want to get in while the gettins' good,” Potter said. “Swimming, in particular, is underserved in Oklahoma and Texas.”
Adding swimming and diving and lacrosse didn't require much in the way of capital expenses — St. Gregory's already has a swimming pool and lacrosse can be played on the soccer field, Potter said.
St. Gregory's will hire one head coach for men's and women's swimming and one coach for lacrosse as well as least one part-time assistant coach for each program, Potter said.
Marketing on some lacrosse and swim websites will start appearing once coaches are hired to inform potential recruits about the opportunities, including partial scholarships that will cover some of the tuition costs, which run $18,000 to $20,000 per year.
It's not a coincidence that both private schools in Oklahoma offering swimming are in Shawnee. Potter, an OBU alum and former coach, did some of the initial research into which sports would be smart additions to that school's roster. He later used that same research and work at St. Gregory's.
“They've had a lot of success in swimming … and it just reinforced my idea that swimming could work,” Potter said.
Oklahoma Baptist University's men's swimming and diving team won the NAIA National Championships in 2012 and 2013, while the women's swimming and diving team won a national championship in 2013.
Jeff Allen, the swim coach at Phillips 66 Splash Club in Bartlesville, said St. Gregory's new swim program will hopefully bring more recognition to the sport, which often takes a backseat to football, baseball and basketball in Oklahoma.
But, Allen said, until a large school like University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University offers swimming, these programs may not have as much impact as people would think.
“We have a lot of great athletes going out of state,” he said.