Marian Catholic girls water polo coach Sean Scanlon talks to his players during a break in the action. | File photo
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:12AM
Sean Scanlon is the girls varsity water polo and swimming coach at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights. He started teaching and coaching at Marian in 2001. Scanlon graduated from Thornwood High School, where he was on the swim team, and Iowa State University.
Why/how did you originally get into coaching?
My high school coach, Verne Wilhelm, asked me to start coaching age group and boys high school swimming.
Have you seen high school sports — especially swimming and water polo — change since you started coaching? If so, how?
Swimming has gotten so fast over the past few years. In 2000, the Marian girls placed fifth at the IHSA state meet in the 200 hedley relay. Their time in the relay would now barely qualify them to swim in the state meet at all.
Water polo has exploded in size. Since I started coaching in 1996, the number of teams in the state has nearly tripled. Along with the number of teams in the state, the talent pool has gone way up. There are talented players throughout the state instead of on just a handful of teams.
If you had free rein to do so, would you change anything about swimming and water polo in the IHSA? Classes, different state meet format? High school sports in general?
I would change the state cutoffs to all end in .99 (seconds) like they did in the past. It’s heartbreaking to see swimmers see a 1:08 on the board only to find out that they were 1:08.80 and the state cut is 1:08.49. I feel the state meet is getting too elite. Unfortunately, we have to keep it small because of a lack of a facility to host a true state championship like they do in Iowa and Indiana. Our state meet is faster than both of those states. I would love to see the IHSA stop their limitations of transfers. Anyone can transfer from school to school unless it is from public to private.
Any favorite game, memory, player, practice story?
My favorite stories always come back to the IHSA sectional swim meet. Over the years, you see swimmers do things that they probably shouldn’t be able to do, but they accomplish their goals in large part to the excitement and adrenaline from the meet. A really good time drop for a 400 free relay is six to eight seconds, and I’ll never forget the year that we dropped 16-plus seconds and went from sixth place to second place and qualified for the state meet.
Players like playing certain teams/opponents. Do you have a favorite match/rivalry you look forward to?
Over the past few years, we have had some great meets with Homewood-Flossmoor and Mother McAuley. The sectional is usually a great meet between us and Homewood-Flossmoor.
Is it different coaching a sport like water polo that isn’t mainstream but is still extremely popular? Have you seen that popularity grow?
I have seen water polo grow from 25 to 30 teams in the late 1990s to the 70-plus teams we have today. I like coaching a sport that isn’t so mainstream because it’s fun watching girls try it for the first time and falling in love with the sport.
On the sidelines, what are you most proud of as a coach?
I am most proud of the fact that my girls can be so successful in the pool every year, and yet maintain such a high level of academic success. For the past three years, our team has carried a grade-point average of over 3.5, and we have had multiple Speedo Academic All-Americans. I also love to watch swimmers who never swam before high school move up through the program, and end their careers representing our team at the IHSA sectional meet.
As told to Tim O’Brien