SAN MARCOS, Texas – Facing a major increase in membership, the Texas State University Swim Club initiated changes to create engaging opportunities for members to connect.
Around 60 swimmers showed up at the first Texas State Swim Club practice of the season on Aug. 30 at the Student Recreation Center. At the end of the 2023 spring semester, the club had a dozen regular members. President and coach Jaxon Castillo, a senior electrical engineering major, said he attributes the previous low membership to coronavirus pandemic and infrequent attendance.
“My junior year, there were only 10 or 11 people on the team, and that was rough because even then they wouldn’t show up to practice sometimes,” Castillo said. “They’re freshmen, that happens, so there were days that I would come that it would just be me here.”
Castillo originally signed up to be social media officer his sophomore year but became president of the swim club after the original president dropped out. Earlier this spring, he conducted elections that resulted in a panel of six officers.
“I have a good group of officers,” Castillo said. “Me and the officers went to New Student Orientation and were there every time we could, and I think that really contributed to the growth we’ve seen this semester.”
Social Media Officer Alessandro Ingles, a sophomore international business major, responded to the increase in numbers by organizing semimonthly club hangouts to promote community. Members went bowling on Oct. 6 and hiking at Purgatory Creek on Oct. 21. Ingles also said he is planning a Halloween party for Friday Oct. 27.
“My goal is pretty much to give everyone that doesn’t attend practice a chance to still be able to connect with the team,” Ingles said.
Members of the team also get together outside of planned events. After practice, members might go eat at Fuego Tortilla Grill or Whataburger. A group went to go watch the movie release of the Taylor Swift Eras Tour this past week.
“Everyone was bantering off each other, jokes flying around, and I’m like this is fun, this is what I like,” Catherine Frankson, a first-semester club member and freshman public health major, said about visiting Fuego after the first practice. “I love the aspect of a team, and so that’s why I joined.”
Team-bonding also extends to the club traditions surrounding swim meets. The club hosted its first swim meet on Sept. 30 and traveled to Texas A&M University for a meet on Oct. 13.
Director of Outreach Tracy Hall, a senior manufacturing engineering, said that the few practices before a meet focus on speed and diving skills but that Castillo promotes high morale with encouragements and countdowns.
“He tries to really pump people up to get excited and get ready for the meets,” Hall said.
When traveling to other universities for away meets, the team will take a few vans and travel together the day before. Previously, the team took two vans, but Castillo estimated needing to take four this semester.
“I definitely was able to talk more with my teammates and get to know them better, and we laughed a lot on the road,” said Benjamin Guzman, a first-semester club member and freshman computer science major.
After arriving, the team will eat dinner then hang out at the hotel the night before to talk and play games.
“This past year, we started a tradition of playing Mafia which is like a social deduction game,” Hall said. “We will all go into one room and play Mafia for three hours staying up way too late. That’s a really good bonding experience for everyone. We all get to know each other better.”
Swim meets typically start in the early morning around 6 a.m. and continue throughout the day. The team travels home after the meet, and many members rest on the way back.
“[The swim club] has helped me make friends, especially when it comes to having to go to meets because you’re put in a situation where you have to be sociable with others,” Guzman said. “It has definitely helped break the ice.”
Frankson said that having a group of people that shares common ground has helped her make friends and that swimming helps her de-stress.
“I have a shelter of a moment where I can have fun and be myself and meet new people,” Frankson said. “Every time I come to practice I meet someone new.”
Hall estimates that as the semester has continued, the team has increased to about 30 members with half being infrequent attendees, a 150% increase compared to the dozen members last spring.