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JUNEAU - From Crimson Bear to fledgling Falcon.
Born and raised in Juneau, Jason Wilson was a member of the 1985 Juneau-Douglas High School state champion boys' swim team and was an assistant coach at JDHS last year. Now, he's taking over as the head swim coach at Thunder Mountain, an interesting dynamic not lost on Wilson.
"I'm a JDHS graduate, so it's very weird," he said. "I coached at JDHS last year, and to be going to Thunder Mountain is, I think, an odd concept. But there's a lot of good stuff about it. Bill Byouer has been doing a really good job of being seen out in the public and getting Thunder Mountain football out in the community, and I'm hoping to do the same thing with swimming."
Wilson was a junior on the '85 team, and he said the 100-meter butterfly and the 100 backstroke were his specialties, though he was more of a utility swimmer.
"We won with the fewest amount of boys ever," he said. "I think we had six guys and no divers. That was a pretty huge feat. Mike Miller was our coach, and we had won some relays that were really key. Everything had to fall in perfect place for it to happen, and it did."
After graduation, Wilson went to the University of New Mexico for one year before returning to Juneau and taking over as head swim coach at JDHS in 1987.
"I was 19, and I was the youngest high school coach in the nation," he said.
Wilson said his time as a young head coach - three years - was tough because he had difficulties getting the team to respect his authority.
"I had swam with a lot of those kids, and I had just graduated the year before," he said. "Both of my sisters were on the team, so that was a challenge trying to give direction. And I was really on the basics of learning coaching."
After going back to school for few years, Wilson took a part-time job with UPS and was "living easy." He returned to Juneau and started coaching with the Glacier Swim Club during the past five years.
"This go-around, I kind of got back into coaching because my daughter started swimming when she was six, and she's 11 now," Wilson said. "I saw that GSC was looking to add some assistant coaches, so I volunteered to get on board with them."
Wilson said he's learned a lot from Kathy Millhorn, the JDHS coach, and Scott Griffith, the GSC head coach.
"They've been awesome in teaching me, showing me the ropes and encouraging me," he said.
Wilson helped Millhorn coach the JDHS team last season after working with GSC, which was a big change going from preteens to teenagers and young adults.
"Last year was a pretty big learning curve for me in that, what I thought I knew went out the door," he said. "The last four or five years has been working with 8-, 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds. Going from that age group to high-school kids was a huge leap in communication and training, but mostly in communication."
Now, he's ready to lead his own program again - the burgeoning young program at Thunder Mountain.
"Although, we're still going to be swimming together because the pool at Thunder Mountain isn't finished," Wilson said. "We'll be training together and interacting."
Wilson said there won't likely be a real split in the two programs for a few years because all of the current swimmers have all been together through the years with GSC.
"They come from an awesome program, and they've already swam together their whole lives," he said. "They're all friends, and it's not like there's any kind of rivalry, yet. But I think in a few years, as you see them split schools and the kids actually go to different pools, there will be more of a rivalry-type setup."
Wilson said he's not yet sure how many kids he will have on the team this year, and building it from the ground up is an ongoing process. Wilson said he expects 10 to 15 kids, mostly freshman boys.
"That's a nice base to build from," he said. "Girls have been in a shortage for swimming for a little while, so I'm looking at only one to five on the girls' side. I'm hoping for more, but that's what it's looking like right now."
Wilson said he is excited to put his own stamp on a program, one with a new, eight-lane pool being built that could eventually host a state meet.
"That would be absolutely gigantic for us," he said of the possibility of hosting state. "But we want to get more kids involved with swimming and diving. As far as goals, we just want to do our best and hopefully provide a positive atmosphere for the kids. "Hopefully, within the next five years, I'd like to see us competing legitimately in the Southeast, and then win state."