One thing has not changed for Michael Walz since his first stint as a high school swim coach.
“It’s still fun,” said Walz. “It will always be fun, because the kids make it fun.”
Walz is in his first season as the head coach for District 2. That entails six teams — boys and girls teams at Senior, Skyview and West.
He was previously the head coach at West from 1984-89 while he was a teacher at West. He’s been teaching earth science and geology at Skyview since 1989, and just last winter he rejoined the coaching ranks as an assistant for the Skyview swim team.
When District 2 coach Matt Santala stepped down after last season to pursue a master’s degree, Santala and District 2 athletic director Mark Wahl approached Walz about taking the job.
“The time was right for me,” said Walz. “I had been back in the program for a year, so I got familiar with the kids and the program. And I knew that I’d have Matt (Santala) and Mitch Crouse helping me out as assistants, which is just outstanding.
“I’m having a great time. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
The local teams opened the season last Saturday with the Billings Invitational. Skyview finished second to Bozeman in both the boys and girls team races, and Walz was impressed by the efforts of all six of his teams.
“We had some great times for a season opener, which shows how hard these kids have been working in practice,” he said. “I know the kids were real excited to have a meet … to get out and compete after a couple of weeks of nothing but practice.
West’s Conrad Smith won the 200 IM and 100 breastroke, while Senior’s Nathan Frieders won the 100 freestyle and Skyview’s Braydon Marchant won the 50 freestyle.
On the girls side, Senior’s Alyssa Boese (200 IM, 500 freestyle) and Skyview’s Linnaya Luoma (50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke) were both double winners.
A total of 87 swimmers are competing for the six SD2 teams, with the largest team being the Senior girls with 20.
Walz has his sights set on increasing that number to well over 100 for next season, and he’s got a plan as to how to get there.
“My goal is to raise the numbers by at least 10 per school,” he said. “I want to get the word out and let the kids know that swimming is a good sport and a good time. It’s competitive and collegial, and there’s a lot more teamwork involved than most people realize.”
The Billings teams are at the Hardin Invitational on Saturday. Their next home date is the Billings Public Schools meet on Jan. 18.