West Side senior Anton Strange lost a scholarship because of the cancellation of swimming in the Gary schools. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Ashley Farr appreciates the value of swimming.
The 2002 West Side graduate had about half of her tuition at North Carolina A&T paid for by the time she was a senior.
She was able to go places in college — Washington, D.C., and Detroit and Florida — that she never would have traveled to had she not been on the swim team. Farr works for Victoria’s Secret now as a marketing analyst.
“Basketball and volleyball are great,” she said, “but swimming can open so many doors. It’s great if you’re a minority and you can grab a swim scholarship.”
Farr worked as a lifeguard, taught swim lessons to adults and children, and she worked as an assistant manager at a pool during her college days. She had no intention of swimming at A&T, but when she visited the campus she found out about the team and decided to walk on.
By her second semester, the school found a small amount of scholarship money for her. Each semester, the scholarship stipend increased.
“I blossomed from being a walk-on to becoming the team captain by my senior year,” she said.
Farr called it a “real disadvantage” for kids in Gary not to have any kind of swim program.
Lisa Webster understands first-hand the problems that not having a swim program presents.
She pulled her daughter, Robin Townsend, from Bowman Academy, a charter school, to attend Merrillville High School so she had a place to swim.
Webster had a good experience swimming with the Gary Hammerheads, the age-group club swim team in Gary, but it ended when there were no school options for her in the city for swimming.
Webster wanted Townsend to swim for West Side but even if the school had a program, it wouldn’t have been possible.
The Gary Community Schools system won’t let charter school students participate in its athletic programs.
“That didn’t make any sense to us at all,” Webster said.
Townsend swims the 50 and 100 free for the Pirates and also the 200 and 400 relay. Townsend said the Gary school district needs to get the pools fixed — so the kids can have a team and students can utilize the pools for class.
“That is just so sad that they can’t swim now,” she said. “There are kids that don’t know how to swim.”
Kimberly Parker said she would have moved from Gary to help her son, Anton Strange, continue working toward a swimming scholarship but she couldn’t afford to. Parker said some parents approached Bowman about starting a swim team but that never materialized.
“I don’t blame anyone for moving so their child can have an opportunity,” she said, “but I can’t move. I’m a homeowner.”