The Norman Transcript

February 17, 2013

Passion brought him back, competition brought him title

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It’s about the moments.

It’s about the stories.

It’s about the drama.

You’d think I’d make up my mind. But the truth is it’s about all of those things, from saves state soccer championships couldn’t have been won without, to the back story behind Norman’s first state swimming championship since the Norman High boys won it all in 1994.

I tell people I try to find the drama in everything I cover, because somewhere it always lurks. Only today, maybe not. The way the Norman North boys blew everybody out of the pool Saturday at Jenks, the drama can be harder to peg, the completeness of the achievement so clear.

So let’s go with the story.

Quickly.

Kent Nicholson swam on three NHS state title teams, in 1980, ’82 and ’83 and he was helping Jim Akey with the Tiger swim program when NHS last won it all 19 years ago.

Then he went to law school.

“We thought we were going to be able to just walk away, and I did, I went to law school,” he said. “But the bug had bitten me.”

So he came back.

First, that meant guiding the Sooner Swim Club. Eventually, it meant running a single high school swimming program, albeit one that counts two different high schools.

“It’s what I know, it’s what I love, it’s what I do and I just fight for it,” Nicholson said, interrupting a celebration to answer a few questions Saturday night. “At one time, when I was practicing law, I thought swimming was going to die in Norman and I didn’t want to let that happen.”

When he took on the high school teams at NHS and North, he figured he had maybe 25 swimmers between both schools. This year, he has about 70 in the program. He said 21 are seniors, and about 10 of them are the program’s core, because they bought into the process when they were 6, 7 and 8 years old when they first got started in Sooner Swim Club.

Nicholson coaches the one sport in which both sides of the Crosstown Clash feel more like teammates than rivals, and he even gives much of the credit for one school’s title to the swimmers from the other school.

“The very best team I’ve ever had since I’ve been coaching, if it hasn’t been for the Norman North boys, has been the Norman High boys this year,” he said. “And what’s made these North kids so good is the competition.”

It’s really quite cool.

In the best possible way, the rivalry that is the Crosstown Clash has never been more heated, electric or seemingly important. Yet here are these swimmers, on both sides of it, pushing each other to new heights by working together.

Nicholson said it made no difference to him, but who doesn’t love the fact that the T-Wolves beat, among others, Jenks in the Trojans’ own pool?

Instead, he will save that energy for the fight to get the Tigers and T-Wolves their own pool. Because the Murray Case Sells complex at OU is dilapidating before our eyes and should it every close, T-Wolves and Tigers will have nowhere to splash.

Nicholson finally has another state title, but the fight for the sport goes on.

“We’ve been working for people to notice us because we need a pool,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of kids and we’ve got a bunch of fast kids.”

Hopefully, soon enough, in their own pool.

So that’s the back story and little on the story going forward. The story of Norman’s pied piper of the pool, of a true believer in his sport, who convinced others to take the plunge.

It’s a good story.

Saturday, they celebrated.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com

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