Despite small numbers, Ferndale High swim program has carried on

By: Mark Vest | Woodward Talk | Published February 5, 2019

 Ferndale High swimmers listen in to some instruction at a recent practice session. Coach Daniel Brandenberg said Ferndale has a team of eight this season.

Ferndale High swimmers listen in to some instruction at a recent practice session. Coach Daniel Brandenberg said Ferndale has a team of eight this season.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

For some swimming and diving coaches, this time of year their attention may be focused on trying to get student-athletes qualified for the state finals and taking a shot at a championship.

But for Ferndale High boys swim coach Daniel Brandenberg, his primary aspiration is merely to keep the program alive.

Brandenberg said the Eagles have a roster of just eight, which can make it tough to effectively compete in the Oakland Activities Association, where there are much larger teams.

For example, Troy High coach Tom Buckheim said there are approximately 65 swimmers on his team.

This is Brandenberg’s third season at Ferndale, and he understands the challenge involved with getting the program to compete at a high level, both now and going forward.

“At this point, with how long I’ve been here, I don’t necessarily see that happening anytime soon,” Brandenberg said. “A lot (of) that has to do with the fact that the teams that are out there that are good.  They’ve got kids that swim in the summer; their families belong to swim clubs, country clubs, things like that. So, they’re swimming year-round more. And most of the top teams in the state come out of Oakland County, especially Birmingham.”

Aside from an economic factor, Brandenberg said the sheer amount of choices students have makes it harder to draw them to the swim team.

“When they start school, they have other things that they can do, and the one challenge at Ferndale is that their marching band is very, very good. So, a lot (of) the kids devote their time to marching band,” he said.

Brandenberg said the most rewarding part of coaching Ferndale is “just watching the program continue.”

The key to be able to watch the program continue to compete is getting more athletes from the middle school and youth levels.

“We need other swimmers to come out for the team each year,” Brandenberg said. “It hasn’t necessarily been going as well as I’d like. Seeing all the kids that are swimming for the middle school team and thinking, ‘OK, great, they’re (going to) join the girls team or the boys team next year,’ and only maybe one or two do. So, it’s just trying to keep those kids wanting to join the team.”

Brandenberg said that Ferndale Athletic Director Shaun Butler wants to keep the program moving forward, and that  “working with him to keep that happening is a great thing.”

“What keeps me going is the fact that I’ve got a very good athletic director, and he wants to keep the program going, so having his backing helps a lot,” Brandenberg said.

Butler has checked into the possibility of having a co-op program, in which Ferndale and another school would have a combined team, but for various reasons, that option has not come to fruition.

And although Butler said, “I get nervous every year that we’re not (going to) have enough,” he discussed what motivates him to keep a program at Ferndale.

“For me, it’s the kids that swim, the dedication and the determination that they have to have,” Butler said. “I’m a cross country and track guy, also played basketball, but I know what kids like that go through that don’t get any support; don’t get the fans. … The dedication, determination, and the hard work those kids put in, as long as I can have enough kids to make it come to fruition, we’ll do it.”

Despite the challenges, the Eagles have come away with some victories this season. At press time, they were 2-5 overall and 2-3 in the OAA Blue.

“It’s been going fairly well,” Brandenberg said. “For a small team, we’re doing pretty well.”

One advantage of having a small team is that it gives Brandenberg more opportunities to work with swimmers on an individual basis.

Although he can’t fully control the size of the team, what he can control is trying to help swimmers reach their potential.

“I kind (of) have to sit back a little bit and realize that I’m not coaching a team of 25 or 30 kids,” Brandenberg said. “I have to deal with what I have to work with, trying to get all the kids to achieve the best that they can achieve and accomplish their goals.