The Cradle Of Aquatic Excellence Foxcatcher, 2 Other Swim Clubs Are Spawning Much Talent - Olympic And Otherwise.

Posted: March 25, 1993

NEWTOWN SQUARE — The flags of the United States and other countries blowing in the breeze are the most colorful items inside or outside the Foxcatcher National Training Center. The functional, L-shaped building of yellow block with blue trim would not attract much attention, even if it were not hidden on the back stretches of John E. du Pont's Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square.

A sign tells a visitor that the training center is home for U.S. Swimming, USA Wrestling, U.S. Modern Pentathlon and National Triathlon competitors.

Inside, the atmosphere can be very intense.

A cloud of condensation hangs above the Olympic-size pool, one of only four indoor 50-meter pools in Pennsylvania. In another section are facilities for wrestling. A third area holds complete weight-training facilities.

Du Pont, an heir to the chemical firm that bears the family name, built the pool in 1968. The wrestling facilities were added in the 1980s.

"You're out there by yourself. You win or lose by yourself," said du Pont in explaining his special support for wrestling and swimming.

Though Foxcatcher carries a little more prestige because of its international reputation, two other private organizations - Suburban Swim Center, also in Newtown Square, and Malvern Swim Association - have also played major roles in developing area swimmers. Only Foxcatcher offers wrestling in addition to swimming.

Plaques with the names of Olympic medalists embedded in the center's walls attest to Foxcatcher's reputation, but it is not just a place for the elite. Competitive swimmers as young as 6 line up to take advantage of the facilities and the coaching staffs that have been assembled at this club.

On a recent Saturday, a half-dozen athletes of high school age and younger were working out under the eye of Team Foxcatcher coach Dick Schulberg and assistant John McFadden. The Foxcatcher swim program has about 125 swimmers - there are others on a waiting list - from ages 6 to 17, some of whom also swim for their high school teams.

Like Suburban and Malvern, Foxcatcher's is not an easy program. The participants at these clubs must be committed, willing to make sacrifices and, above all else, self-disciplined to survive. The athletes' dedication, promptness and mental toughness, more than ability, can determine how far one goes.

"I place tremendous demands on the kids," Schulberg said. "There's volumes of work, and I demand that they do it right. But we never put academics second to athletics. I tell the kids to finish that history paper before they get in the pool. Otherwise it will have an effect on your swimming."

Participants pursue a workout schedule that includes two practices six days a week, the first at 5:30 a.m., and swimming thousands of meters each day.

"John (du Pont) allows these young dreamers to use his facilities," said Schulberg, who also teaches and coaches swimming at Germantown Academy. "The young athletes and John both know that few make it to the Olympics, but that doesn't bother John."

"This is not a learn-to-swim program" added McFadden, who also teaches swimming in the Lower Merion School District. "We're looking for the kid with the ability to make the commitment necessary for our program."

The three training facilities charge fees for pool time ranging from $35 a month to $88 a month, depending on age and ability level.

When West Chester Henderson senior Rob Strauber won gold medals for the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races at the PIAA District 1 Class AAA championships on March 6, he attributed his success to Foxcatcher. He is one of several Team Foxcatcher members who left Monday morning for the U.S. Junior Nationals in Florida. Suburban has six swimmers at the nationals; Malvern, two.

"I started swimming because I had asthma," said the 6-foot, 3-inch, 150- pound Strauber. "I outgrew it. Now I'd like to make the Olympic trials by the end of my college career." He has not decided on a college yet but is looking at Eastern Michigan, Northern Arizona and East Carolina as well as some local universities.

Marple Newtown High junior Lisa Herbster is also taking this week off from school to swim in Florida with Team Foxcatcher. Herbster, who won a gold medal in the 100 butterfly and a bronze in the 100 backstroke at the Class AA state championships, gave up playing lacrosse and field hockey to concentrate on swimming. She hopes to get a college scholarship for swimming.

"Foxcatcher opened my eyes to a much bigger world of swimming," said Herbster, who had been swimming for Marple Newtown Aquatic Club. "My coach, Pete Thompson, switched (to Foxcatcher), and I was looking to switch too. There's a lot more competition here than I had at the aquatic club."

With practice from 5:30 to 7 a.m. and again from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m., Herbster admits that her social life is limited. A National Honor Society student, Herbster must also find time to keep up with her schoolwork.

"Swimming just leaves you a lot less time to do things," said Herbster, usually a backstroke and butterfly swimmer. "You have to be more organized. It's also helped me widen my circle of friends. I have friends from both school and swimming."

Kate Hitchner has no Olympic dreams. The Shipley School student simply enjoys swimming. "I like being part of a team (Foxcatcher) since Shipley has no swimming program. I swam in a club program, but I felt I needed a stronger one. That's why I joined Foxcatcher. I want to make senior nationals now that I've qualified for junior nationals."

A pair of wrestlers, Chris Mansueto of West Chester East and George Jennings of Downingtown, credited Foxcatcher with getting them to the state championships last weekend at Hershey. Mansueto, a junior, just missed making the medal round, and Jennings bowed out after winning in the first round.

"All you have to be is committed. The better you get, the more attention you get. I think all the good wrestlers from District 1 are here."

"We're technique-oriented," said coach Greg Strobel of the wrestling program at Foxcatcher. "There's not a whole lot of wrestling here," he said. The Foxcatcher technique stresses repeating moves and mechanics in practice.

Strobel said the high school level wrestling program had been suspended temporarily. "John (du Pont) wants to make some changes in format," he explained.

Although there is competition between Foxcatcher, Suburban and Malvern for the young swimmers, Schulberg said there was a good relationship between the

clubs.

"Charlie Kennedy (the head coach at Suburban) once swam for Foxcatcher," said Schulberg. "We're happy over each other's success."

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