Dalton High School Catamounts

June 28, 2014

Cushman’s gamble is paying off

Wil Cushman never had to worry about establishing his high school’s swimming and diving program. Dalton already had a full roster and championship history.

His first two years at Birmingham Southern University, though, have been all about making sure the beginning wasn’t the end.

Cushman joined the NCAA Division III program after graduating Dalton High School in 2012. The following season was Birmingham Southern’s first with a swimming team, which Cushman was part of after accepting an invite. Cushman received an academic scholarship, but Division III programs cannot offer athletic grants.

“Basically, all of us as freshman going in were kind of taking a gamble,” Cushman said. “Our coach, Toby Wilcox, was recruiting all of us and was saying, ‘If I get who I want to get, this will be a great team.’ We really had to trust him. It turned out we got a ton of great swimmers and it was awesome. But, it being a startup team, it easily could’ve gone in the other direction.”

It’s a gamble that paid off.

The Birmingham Southern women’s team won the 2014 Southern Athletic Association championship, and the men’s team was runner-up one year after a fourth-place finish. Cushman was part of the Panthers’ victorious 4x100 meter relay and 4x200-meter freestyle at the 2014 conference meet — he won the 4x100 relay with Duncan Bonney, David Lutomski and Drew Priede, and then won the 4x200 with Bonney, Priede and Scott Taylor. Cushman finished second in the 500 freestyle — Priede won — and third in the 200 freestyle.

Cushman is helping his former high school coach, Charles Todd, with private lessons this summer through Swim America.

Without a doubt, Cushman believes Dalton High — which won the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class A-5A state title the year following his graduation — helped uphold a strong work ethic. Dalton — easily the most prestigious swimming program in northwest Georgia — also won a state championship in 1993.

“At Dalton, I was surrounded by a lot of really good swimmers,” he said. “... It helped me a lot to be around really fast guys — and girls — and kind of get used to that feeling of always having someone there to kind of push you. I think if I had been on a team where I was the fastest person and no one could push me, I don’t think I would be swimming in college. I think I would’ve gotten bored with it, because I wouldn’t really have gotten better.”

In high school, Cushman was part of the victorious 200 medley relay — with Taylor Dale, Omar Farag and Pierson Scarborough — at the 2012 GHSA Class A-4A state meet. Dale, a junior that season, signed a swimming scholarship with the University of Georgia.

Cushman handled the freestyle stroke on the high school medley team.

“He became a strong middle-to-long distance freestyle swimmer for me,” Todd said. “He came on strong his junior year and had a strong senior year.”

Cushman didn’t have much trouble making the high school-to-college transition — at least from a swimming aspect.

“The toughest part, for me, had nothing to do with swimming,” he said. “The toughest part was budgeting your time, learning how to do things on your own. Swimming helped me a lot with that because it helped give me a regimen for my time.”

Because of Birmingham Southern’s blank history, swimming also gave Cushman an easy way to build friendships.

“I think it was kind of a bonding experience,” he said. “Usually, when you come in, you need to mold into what’s already there. All of us, we didn’t have to do that. It was kind of easier for us to be ourselves and it helped us bond.”

Two years after the fact, Cushman is happy with his decision to help create Birmingham Southern’s swimming program. With two years left, he has more individual and team goals. He wants to make the NCAA Division III national meet. To do it, he needs to qualify during the season. Cushman said there are 20 spots for individual events and 10 for relay events. He said each event has an “A-cut” and a “B-cut” qualifying time. Those making the A-cut automatically make the national meet. The fastest times from those making the B-cut fill the remaining spots.

“I made a B-cut in the 500 and 200 freestyle events,” Cushman said of his sophomore year, “but I didn’t get to go.”

There’s also more the team can accomplish. Cushman said the Panthers should contend for a conference championship in 2015. That, coupled with rising involvement, would all but finish establishing Birmingham Southern swimming.

“There’s definitely more work left to do,” he said. “Obviously, we want to win conference. ... The guys team is almost doubling in size this year. Our recruiting is wonderful. I think the sky is the limit with us. We’re going to take conference and keep on going.”

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Dalton High School Catamounts
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