Down but not out
In the three years before Joanne Engle took over as Morris swimming coach, the program had three different coaches.
Since Engle, who has coached both the Redskins' boys and girls teams, took over in the fall of 1991, she's been the one consistent part of the program as the team's only coach.
Next season, the Morris co-op swim team will have a new person at the helm, as Engle is stepping down. She will stay on with the program as an assistant coach.
Engle said one main reason she stepped down is because she has confidence in assistant Andrew Porth, who is expected to become the school's next head coach.
"He's been with me for seven years and he's done a really good job as my assistant coach," Engle said. "He really wanted to be the head coach and it just seemed like this was a good year to step down, and he wanted it. It was 20 years for me so I just figured it was the best time to do it. I just figured I could help him for a few years."
Building the program
Prior to taking the job, Engle had experience with the Morris Marlins.
Her oldest daughter, Julie, was a member of the Redskins' girls squad, and Joanne Engle didn't want to see her daughter compete without a coach.
That was one of a number of reasons she decided to take over.
"It was my daughter's senior year and she wanted to swim, and there was nobody there," said Engle, who coached a lot of the swimmers prior to their high school careers. "It wasn't just for her. It was just for a lot of kids that I knew well."
Right after Engle completed her first season as Morris girls swim coach, she wasn't sure how long she would coach the program, as the school's superintendent wanted to cut the program due to low numbers.
Engle's husband, Dr. Robert Engle, got a number of people to speak on the program's behalf at the November board meeting, and was able to get more swimmers to come out.
Engle knew a lot of her daughter's friends, and had been working as a substitute, so she was able to improve the team's numbers. She also had subbed at Immaculate Conception, meaning she was also able to round up some former ICS students and get them into the program.
After it looked like swimming might not exist, Engle was able to coach state-placers, as well as a state champion — Evan Harper in the 100-yard backstroke in 2004.
"Joanne has been the ground floor of the whole program," Morris athletic director George Dergo said. "She's put the hours and the effort that she needed to build not only the swimming, but the diving program into a pretty competitive, very competitive program for the size we ware. '
"She's always got a good number of athletes on the team that come out and compete."
One thing that has been an advantage to Morris' program in recent years is its co-op status.
Six years ago, Morris started co-oping with Seneca. In later years, Coal City and Minooka joined as well. Last season, Morris diver Alyssa Applebee, a Seneca student, placed 11th at the IHSA State Meet in Winnetka.
Starting a co-op isn't easy, as schools have to get signatures from each conference-member of the program, as well as each athletic director from the school that wants to start a co-op.
"A lot of parents came to me and asked me if we could co-op, and that's how we kept adding schools," Engle said. "Actually it's two parents from Minooka, and that's why Minooka joined. Both of those kids were swimming independently at Minooka.
"That's how it came about. A lot of parents from other schools that contacted me."