Written By: Dean Brownley
After a year filled with serious challenges and roadblocks for every team in the nation, spring here at Centre College has brought a great victory for our swim and dive program. In mid-April our administration announced the approval of a $50 million plan to build a new 50-meter aquatics facility, nestled within plans for a new weight room and fieldhouse building. This project represents the culmination of countless years of planning and meetings behind-the-scenes trying to secure the resources necessary to pull it off.
So how did we pull it off? By leveraging the power of community.
Our current facility houses a 6-lane, 25-yard pool built in 1966. When I took over as Head Coach 20 years ago, we only had 9 swimmers on the roster. We had plenty of space. Since then, however, our team size has grown to as many as 50 athletes at a time, leaving us in a pinch with our available training space. Splitting the team into multiple practice groups and spending many hours on deck each day have been the norm for many years. The facility itself faces many problems of an aging building and dated equipment, causing fairly frequent and frustrating disruptions to our team’s training throughout the season.
The one source of constancy throughout all the growing pains and challenges of running a program in an outdated facility has been our sense of community. Each year when our new freshmen class walks in the doors we have a chat about family. We tell them, “This team HAS to operate as a family unit to succeed.” We don’t have the luxury of fancy new locker rooms and 16 practice lanes to spread out in. We don’t always have warm showers or heat in the pool. Many late nights and early mornings call for a level of commitment that isn’t necessary for every sport or every team. You have to be all in. But it builds friendships, coach-athlete bonds, and character stronger than any other sport I know. When the going gets tough, our athletes know I have their back above all else, and they lift each other up through the hard times.
As a coach I’ve always strived to make swimmers faster and win championships, but the real test of my success as is when an athlete leaves our program having grown into a better person and fostered lifelong relationships. That’s why keeping up with parents and alumni, and building our greater community, has been so vital to my role as a head coach. The support of our extended swimming and diving family means everything. It’s what keeps tons of alumni coming back for homecoming year after year. It’s what gets parents showing up to meets all over the country. It’s what helps our seniors get job opportunities and grad school acceptances after graduation. It’s what gets recruits to come visit our campus in small-town Danville, KY, based on the word of a family friend or acquaintance who can’t wait to tell them about their Centre experience. It all adds up.
Our new 50-meter pool is going to be an amazing accomplishment for the school and its athletic programs, but it doesn’t stop there. It wouldn’t have been possible without the faith and dedication of program alumni, their belief in what we do here, and their continued investment in the Centre community. Fostering close connections with our athletes and their families over the years has created a net of support – a spider web of experiences, memories, and growth moments that bring people together. The college’s administration, donors, and extended support system can see this is important and worthy of investment.
Not to mention, an aquatics investment of this size will have far-reaching implications not only at Centre, but for the swimming community of Kentucky. There are precious few 50-meter pools available for teams to train in across the state and there is constant competition for pool time. Many teams don’t get access to long-course training at all. Danville is centrally located within 90 minutes of Kentucky’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington, and is easily accessed from some more rural areas. Our hope is to host meets and championships that bring teams from across the state and beyond together. We hope to make our swimming community stronger and closer, while widening the net of opportunity for swimmers to train and compete at a high level.
As our facility and inevitably our team continue to grow, one thing will stay the same: our commitment to being a family. As cheesy as it may sound, it really is the one thing that’s allowed us to overcome some serious obstacles and come out on the other side. Although new challenges will surely emerge, we know our new pool will be a catalyst for bringing people in the swimming world together in ways that weren’t possible before. And most of all, we hope to hear our team’s favorite cheer echoing across the pool deck during practices and meets for years and years to come: “1-2-3 CENTRE, 4-5-6 FAMILY.”
Dean Brownley took over the Centre College swim team in 2001-02 after coaching at Campbellsville University for eight years, where he built an NAIA national powerhouse. While at Centre, Brownley has compiled a record of 345-172-2 in dual meets, bringing his overall record to 409-201-2. Brownley has won ten conference Coach of the Year awards during his tenure with the Colonels, including a sweep of the Southern Athletic Association Men's and Women's Coach of the Year awards for the 2012-13 season. Brownley's swimmers and divers have earned 29 different All-America honors. His All-American student-athletes from Centre include Meredith Angel, Amelia Blankenbeker, Elise Burch, Lauren Gates, Chloe Grove, Hunter Hayes, Sarah Hayhurst, Annie Holmes, Hadley Judson, Colleen Maggard, Holly Oatman, Dustin Schulten, Lis Starr and Clark Weber. In his eight years coaching at Campbellsville he had 4 individual national champions, two Olympic qualifiers, 54 all-Americans, 42 honorable mention all- Americans, and his teams finished as high as 3rd in the country. During his tenure with Campbellsville he won conference coach of the year four times and National coach of the year in 1998. Coach Brownley is a graduate of the University of Louisville, receiving his BS in Education with an emphasis in Sports Administration. Dean is married and has three children. He and wife Jamie have two sons, Heath and Hogan, and one daughter, Regan.