FORT WAYNE — Swimmer Courtney Kresl took a break from giving swim lessons at a local pool last week to represent Purdue Athletics at the NCAA Career in Sports Forum, which was held virtually via web-conferencing platforms this year.
A senior mathematics education major set to student teach in the fall, Kresl followed up on an invitation to participate in the annual three-day forum (May 27-29) extended to multiple upperclassmen across Purdue Athletics from Lacee Carmon-Johnson, the department’s director of professional development.
When Kresl committed to attend, it was an in-person conference at the NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis. The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the setting, but Kresl says she thought it was a successful presentation and provided lots useful information all the same. More than 400 student-athletes from across the country participated after completing the application process.
“I’ve always considered a career in sports because I’ve grown up around sports. I don’t think I’m ready to say goodbye to how sports have impacted my life,” Kresl said. “It was a good opportunity to get more information about what it looks like to work at the NCAA or different athletics departments around the country. All of the NCAA divisions were represented — it was spread out nicely from DI to DII to DIII.”
Two featured speakers she spotlighted as highlights of the forum — Dr. Ashleigh Huffman and Dan Gavitt. Huffman is a program specialist at the U.S. Department of State and discussed the power of sport, specifically how it can affect people’s lives around the world and have a positive impact on society.
“I’ve seen that specifically with swimming because swimming is a life skill more than just a personality trait. In a group message thread afterwards, everyone was raving about her and how inspirational her message was,” Kresl said.
Gavitt is a senior vice president for basketball at the NCAA.
“He broke down how March Madness works — the planning and execution of the operations side of large-scale events,” Kresl said. “It was also very interesting to learn more about how the cancellations this year affected everything. My whole family would have loved to sit in on that session.
“They did a really good job even with it being on Zoom. You could send in direct questions and those questions were asked of the presenters at the end,” the freestyle specialist said. “I would have liked to meet some of the attendees in person. There’s such a special bond among people that compete as student-athletes in college — you know what they go through. But looking at the positives, I’m glad I got to experience it. Lacee was there for me and helped me through the application process. She was a moderator of a breakout group as well.”
Kresl closed out her swimming career at the Big Ten Championships in February. She’s on track to graduate from Purdue later this year after completing her student teaching at Carmel High School, where she’ll be learning under the guidance of Scott Bowen — the father of current Purdue swimmer Kendra Bowen.
With pools beginning to reopen around the state, Kresl has returned to her traditional summer job of providing swim lessons to children at the Pine Valley Country Club in Fort Wayne. She was also a swim instructor at Club NewTone in Lafayette during the school year before opting to return home in March when Purdue moved all classes online for the remainder of the spring semester.
Kresl’s mother, Heather, is the swim lessons coordinator at the Carroll High School pool. Twin brothers Kyle and Austin followed Courtney’s lead, progressing from standouts at CHS to college student-athletes. Kyle is a swimmer at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and Austin plays baseball at Manchester University in Manchester, Ind. Their father, Jim, is also involved in sports as a high school football referee.
Often times, high school teachers with a background in athletics have opportunities to also coach. Kresl admitted that she has considered that dual responsibility as something she would like to pursue, acknowledging that taking a few years to establish herself in the classroom first would probably be best.
She highlighted a trio of teachers that helped impact her decision to pursue a career in education.
• Dawn Burrough, her math teacher at Maple Creek Middle School, helped Kresl identify the subject she was most interested in teaching to future generations. Kresl says she got to know Burrough better when the teacher’s daughters joined the swim lessons program. Those girls are continuing to pursue an interest in swimming competitively.
• Dave Ginder, a math teacher and the head varsity baseball coach at Carroll, is a longtime family friend. Along with being brother Austin’s coach at CHS, Ginder was also the go-to for help with math homework growing up.
• Sean Gibson, an assistant coach for CHS swimming & diving and social studies teacher at Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne, provided Kresl a swimming-specific example of what it might be like to be both a high school teacher and coach.
Looking back at the abrupt end of the NCAA swimming and diving season this year, Kresl says she experienced mixed emotions related to the end of her swimming career coupled with the abbreviated championship season.
“I’m glad that I knew my last was my last race — diving in and getting out of the water knowing that was the last time I was going to compete at the college level. I have a couple friends who made the NCAA Championships and were planning on going. At their conference meets, they didn’t know that their last race was their last race. The thought of that for a couple days tore me up on the inside. The mental health of everyone really concerned me.
“Growing up, Indiana swimming did a really good job of communicating with their athletes and giving athletes the opportunity to connect with other people across the state. I feel for my friends that were in that situation where they didn’t get to have a real final race. I reached out to a couple of them and said, ‘I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry. I love you. I wish I could give you a hug.’”