Steve Baxter -- who has built a swimming program unparalleled in the Central Section -- will coach his final meet for Clovis West High this week.
The man who has guided the Golden Eagles' girls to 14 consecutive section championships and the boys to 12 straight is stepping down after the Division I Swimming and Diving Championships at the Clovis West Aquatics Complex.
"Building the tradition has been a lot of fun," Baxter said. "Getting them in the pool year-round has been a challenge, but a fun challenge, and the kids have really gone for it."
Baxter won't be far removed. He plans to take over next school year as the swimming coach at feeder school Kastner Intermediate and work with the water polo programs there, teaching fundamentals and techniques.
"My [new] job is to build up the numbers in polo and transfer that to swimming and get them to come out here at Clovis West," said Baxter, who will be replaced at Clovis West by two-year assistant Adam Reid. "It will be a change in my life, and I think it will be a positive thing."
The 57-year-old Baxter, a two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American at UCLA, came to Clovis West for the 1997 season after 18 years as a high school and club coach in Southern California.
Heading into this week's meet -- which starts with diving today and continues with the swimming preliminaries Friday and finals Saturday -- Baxter has coached 80 individuals and 49 relay teams that have won section titles. And his teams have gone undefeated in league dual meets throughout his 15 years at Clovis West.
"He's a phenomenally enthusiastic swimming coach," said Rick Klatt, coach of Tri-River Athletic Conference rival Central. "He knows how to motivate kids, not only the top-level kids, but all the kids. He's going to get the most out of every athlete he can possibly get. I have the utmost respect for him."
In addition to all the success his swimmers have enjoyed, Baxter said he's proud of the family atmosphere that's developed within the program and he enjoyed the opportunity to coach his three children -- Trent, Kyle and Tristin.
"I've tried to make it more than a high school coach and swimmers," Baxter said. "I've tried to build relationships in the long term. It was an important thing I wanted to do when I came out here.
"Swimming is not an easy sport. But we try to make it as enjoyable as you can make it."
Change in format
Swimming and diving will split into two divisional championship meets for the first time this weekend, with schools assigned on a points system based on past performance.
It is similar to what the CIF Central Section office has done to divisionalize most sports it governs.
The Division I meet features 22 of the 69 schools that offer swimming and diving. The D-II diving was Wednesday, with swimming prelims Friday and finals Saturday at Hillman Aquatic Center at Cal State Bakersfield.
Unlike other sports that blend individual and team competition -- such as wrestling and track and field -- there won't be a final meet for the best of the best of all divisions, although section Commissioner Jim Crichlow said the plan is to add a Masters meet in two years.
Crichlow said the change was made to bring swimming and diving in line with other sports by offering multiple team titles and to set up a qualification process similar to wrestling in advance of a state championship meet.
There isn't an exact timetable for the launch of a state meet, but it's on the CIF's master plan to have state or regional championships for all its sports.
The change for the section meets has drawn mixed reactions.
"I'd like to go back to where we were. Any athlete who can make the D-I cut should be there," said Klatt, whose Grizzlies are now in D-II. "If the third-best breaststroker is at a D-II school, then he's racing the guys he's supposed to race. It helps him and the two other guys."
Schools with fewer swimmers see the benefit of not having to compete against teams double and triple their size.
"Some D-II schools will have swimmers the same caliber as D-I, but those D-II schools don't have the depth to compete with the D-Is for the team title," said Brandon Weaver, coach of the D-II Monache boys. "For the team sport, it's the right move. I think at the end of the day, kids want to swim well individually, but nothing is more exciting than when you can win a team championship,"