The Bayfield Area Recreation Center is one of the area’s top facilities for fun and games, but it also houses the northernmost competitive swim team in Wisconsin, a group of dedicated athletes known as the Bay Area Swim Team that competes against Wisconsin club teams during the winter months.
The club team is made up of youth ages 6 to 18 years old from local cities like Bayfield, Washburn, and Ashland, as well as places as far afield as Wakefield, Mich. Anyone within the age range who can swim one pool length without touching the ground can join the team.
Head coach Rick Burkman has been involved with the team for 13 years and has served as head coach for four years. About 20-25 athletes swim each year. Burkman and other adults helping with the team work with the boys and girls to inspire good technique and a love for the activity.
“If they’re still swimming 50 years from now, we’ve done our job,” said Burkman.
Anthony Fredericks, a junior at Ashland High School, joined the Bay Area Swim Team when he was in eighth grade. He also mountain bikes and wants to continue swimming for fitness after he graduates from high school.
Fredericks works to achieve the feeling of accomplishment that comes with placing in an event or improving his personal best. At last February’s conference championships in Minocqua, he placed fourth in 100-meter backstroke, fifth in 100-meter freestyle, and sixth in 50-meter freestyle.
“It’s not about winning the races as much as it’s improving your times from last time,” Fredericks said. To qualify for the Midwest Regional Championship Swim Meet in Minneapolis, swimmers have to make a cut time in their events.
Fredericks explained that a “heat sheet” lists the events each swimmer is competing in at a meet. Swimmers often write the start times of their events on their hands and arms in permanent marker, he said, to help them keep track of when they swim.
The Bayfield Rec Center’s pool is great for training, but it can’t be used for meets, so the team must travel south on weekends to compete. Parents are as much on the team as the athletes are, said Burkman, because they help transport the swimmers to and from practices and meets.
The drives from Ashland to Bayfield for practices sometimes feel long, said Fredericks. He listens to audiobooks for school or works on other homework when his dad is driving.
Jackson Rasmussen, an AHS graduate, joined the swim team when he was 7 and competed until he graduated from high school in 2016. Like Fredericks, he reached the conference championships level.
“It was fun to see friends improve along with you,” said Rasmussen. He and his teammates formed bonds with members of the teams they met each year. Relay events were especially exciting, Rasmussen said, because he got to experience his teammates working together and giving it their all.
Swimming is still part of Rasmussen’s life. He now lives in a city near Austin, Tex., where he lifeguards and has taught swimming lessons. He also did some coaching in Bayfield before leaving the area.
The older swimmers support the younger swimmers at both practices and meets, said Burkman. Practices are split into two groups based on age, but the groups overlap sometimes. This is where more experienced swimmers like Fredericks help teach the younger group. Also, the older team members help the younger athletes feel more comfortable at meets, which involve 200-250 swimmers.
Burkman describes swimming as “one of the most difficult sports in terms of physical ability.” Swimmers receive a full body workout for their muscles and develop breath control. This makes the swim team another option for youth that want to try a different sport or train for sports they already play.
The season runs from October through January. The fee for one swimmer is $163, and the fee for two swimmers is $275. Bayfield Rec Center members get $25 off, and financial assistance is available. More information about the Bay Area Swim Team can be found at www.recreationandfitnessresources.org/rec-center-swim-team.html.