Coach Tracy Stauffer stared intently at the far end of the pool. Pacing slowly back and forth in his black Nikes, khaki shorts, and Millard West polo shirt, his eyes never left lane two from behind his square spectacles.
The focus of his close attention was a swimmer rocketing his way down the far side of the pool, a blur of white water, his arms and legs chasing the wall ahead. Reaching the end of the pool, the swimmer hit the wall and instantly popped his head out of the water. His shaggy blond hair restricted the view from his mirrored goggles as he frantically tried to see the number on the board.
Jake Stauffer slowly climbed out of the pool, pulled off his goggles, and sauntered toward Millard West’s end of the deck.
Tracy also glanced at the time on the board and studied the numbers. After a brief pause, Stauffer looked away, no emotion registering on his face as he scribbled the time on his clipboard.
Jake found his towel, sat down, and began to dry off. He laughed along with fellow teammates Emry Davis and Jacob Wolfe.
Jake is a senior for the Wildcat swim team, and has been dropping time all season. He is, however, not the only member of the family involved with the program.
Tracy is the head coach of the program, and is also Jake’s dad.
Many wouldn’t like to have a parent as a coach, but for the Stauffer family, it has worked four times over. Jake is the fourth Stauffer to swim for Millard West. Tracy’s oldest son Seth was the first followed by daughters Kayla and Mariah.
As Tracy explains, having a son or daughter on the team can be a very positive experience. The two wake up early each morning before the sun ever thinks of rising, and drive to Millard West to workout.
“From the father-son thing, it’s been great,” Tracy says. “I get to see him everyday. I get to work on his skills, work on his deficiencies, praise him, and correct him.”
When being a dad hits the line of being a coach, that’s where Tracy has to walk a fine line. “Am I paying too much attention to him versus other kids?” is a question that has to be asked by the coach.
“All athletes are jealous of their coach’s time, add the component of the athlete being your son or daughter, then there are some questions of jealousy,” Tracy says.
Giving special privileges to a family member could be a negative factor, especially to the other swimmers on the team. Former swimmer Kate McGinn often saw the close relationship firsthand during her four years on the team. She says they are definitely two of a kind.
“At practice… they put away the father-son dynamic and became a coach and a swimmer. I remember how Stauffer would reprimand Jake louder than anyone for slacking off during a practice,” McGinn says.
Jake says once practice begins their relationship changes. He tries to think of him as a coach and not a father. Jake describes him as encouraging, funny, and loving.
“No matter how much Jake goofed off, everyone could see pride in Stauffer’s eyes after Jake had a good race,” McGinn says.
But Tracy is one to focus on the positives, and for him, the list is large. He has been able to watch his son succeed at the highest level in the state, and his pride in his athlete often shows through.
At Metros this year, Tracy and Jake shared a touching moment on the medal podium after he placed eighth in the 100 free. As Jake accepted his medal from his father, Tracy stepped forward and hugged his son.
Jake is tall, muscular, and confident. He looks a bit dissimilar from his father, with dirty blonde hair compared to Tracy’s salt and pepper black. However, there is a bit of similarity in the mannerisms and facial features.
Throughout his four years at Millard West, Jake has grown into quite an accomplished athlete. He has played football, and was a major contributor at the linebacker position throughout his senior season. In addition to swimming in the winter, he also runs track in the spring.
Playing sports has given him the opportunity to play for other head coaches.
“He really admires them, he talks highly of them,” Tracy says.
As Tracy explains, the diversity of coaches gives an athlete an appreciation of what a parent and coach does for them. And as Jake’s final season comes to an end, the father and son duo have made memories that will last for a long time to come.
One that stands out in Tracy’s mind came during Jake’s junior season in the state meet. Tracy had Jake pegged at 33rd in the state in the 100 breaststroke.
Only the top 32 in each event are eligible to swim in the state meet.
“I was really disappointed in myself as a coach because I thought I should have tapered him explicitly for Metro’s, and I didn’t, and the day we got our entries, he was 32nd,” Tracy says.
As Tracy explains, one of the swimmers ranked higher than Jake dropped the event, giving Jake a berth in the state meet. From there, Jake made the most of his opportunity. He improved from his beginning rank of 32nd to 19th or 20th, and dropped almost two and a half seconds from his seed time.
Jake has memories of his years on the team as well, but in a different way.
“I missed the bus to get to Elkhorn for a meet, so he (Tracy) got mad at me, and it happened again,” he says with a broad smile.
When it happened again, the moment became a running team joke, brought up on Jake’s senior night this year.
“Hopefully, he’ll create some more memories this weekend,” Tracy adds, referring to the upcoming state meet. Tracy has won the state championship title four consecutive years on the girls’ side and added a fifth trophy in 2013. Tack on a couple state runner-ups for the boys, and it is clear Tracy knows what it takes to win.
Jake will swim exclusively freestyle events at state: the medley relay, 200 freestyle relay, open 50 freestyle, and the 100 freestyle.
Like for his other swimmers, Tracy has goals of what his son will accomplish this weekend. Tracy would like to see Jake break 22 seconds in the 50 freestyle, a time that would likely send him into the Top 16, adding team points, vital to the Wildcats’ chances of coming close to teams like Creighton Prep who has held the boys’ state championship title since 2007.
Jake’s best time of the season in the 50 is a 22.93, which he set in the second quadrangular meet.
Tracy also hopes Jake will break 50 seconds in the 100 free. Jake’s best time is a 50.06, and with a full shave and taper, he can hopefully shed the extra six hundredths.
As Jake’s final year at Millard West winds to an end, Tracy looks back and says there are many reasons he was glad to have his son on the team.
“I’ve got to see him grow as an athlete… and help him become more of a man,” Tracy says. “And that piece is something I’ll never forget.”