Seaholm Shows Full Power of Team in Title Surge

By Steve Vedder
Special for

March 27, 2021

JENISON – It seems a stretch to compare winning a state swimming & diving championship with an elephant, but it makes perfect sense to Tom Wyllie.

In fact, that's how Wyllie explains how his deep Birmingham Seaholm team won Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 meet despite gaining only one first place in an event. Seaholm finished with 267.5 points to 222 for runner-up Grosse Pointe South.

"We have a lot of depth, and it's a team sport," said Wyllie, whose Maples won their fourth team title in 10 years. "I've said this a lot to the kids over the years, that when it looks like there is an obstacle, I ask them 'How do you eat an elephant?' The answer is you take one bite at a time. Everyone took a big bite of the elephant today. It was truly about a team effort and camaraderie."

Detroit U-D Jesuit was third with 180 points, Ann Arbor Skyline fourth with 179 and Dexter fifth with 153.

Seaholm's only first place actually came on Friday when Kam Liberman won the diving with a score of 523.15. One of 12 seniors on the team, Liberman agreed with Wyllie that depth is directly tied to the team's success.

"It's a team sport, it's not about individuals. We have lots of depth, and I think we swam our best of the season. Everyone made a lot of drops in time," said Liberman, who was seeded No. 1. "My goal was to hold out. The No. 2 guy was never far away, and I just wanted to stay consistent."

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The next highest Seaholm individual placer was Tom Girdler with a second in the 100 breaststroke while Cami Wilson was third in the 100 butterfly. The 200 and 400 free relays both took thirds.

Wyllie said his present team differed from last year's club which would have been in the hunt for a title if not for the interruption of the COVID outbreak.

"Last year we would have been happy being in the top three," he said. "Farmington was a beast last year, and we expected them to take the title."

Jesuit's Drew Collins won the 100 backstroke (49.18) while teammate Charlie Bruce won the 50 free (20.72). The 200 medley relay team also won (1:32.93).

Bruce, who was seeded eighth, said he couldn't have done any better.

"I was a little nervous, but I had a great taper and dropped a lot of time," he said. "It was pretty much the best I could do."

Senior Clayton Kinnard of Dexter won the 200 free (1:39.72) after taking last season off. He was a top-16 Finals placer as a freshman and sophomore in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke before he opted not to compete last winter.

"I used to put pressure on myself to do good; people expected me to do well," he said. "I stopped swimming because I felt like I was swimming for other people. But my friends wanted me to do it this year for fun, and I did have a lot of fun. It's the most fun I've ever had. I just let loose, and it was the best I've ever swam. I'm proud of this."

Forest Hills Central senior Avery LeTourneau won the 100 butterfly (49.85). He previously had finished eighth in the butterfly as a sophomore. He was seeded fourth this time, but thought a title was possible.

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"I was looking to win, I thought I definitely had a shot. I thought I would be right there," said LeTourneau, who said not being able to compete for a title a year ago was disappointing but a motivator. "I was walking out of school when I found out things were cancelled. We had worked hard for months. Now it feels like we've come full circle. It was 100 percent worth the wait because this is awesome. It was great to see it through."

Saturday’s other first places included Farmington winning the 400 relay (3:07.59) and Grosse Pointe South winning the 200 free relay (1:25.24).

Jack Hamilton of Berkley won the 200 individual medley (1:50.90), Gianni Carlino of Grosse Pointe North took first in the 500 free (4:32.94), Trevor Jones of Farmington topped the 100 free and Michael Grover of Byron Center won the 100 breaststroke (55.39).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Seaholm’s Tom Girdler swims to a runner-up finish in the breaststroke Saturday. (Middle) Byron Center’s Michael Grover, below, works to hold off Dexter’s Clayton Kinnard in the breaststroke. (Below) Saginaw Heritage’s Andrew Gladki also swims the breaststroke at Jenison High School. (Click for more from


DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 4, 2024

Aaron Thomas easily could have decided that swimming wasn't going to be part of his life.

Mid-MichiganThe DeWitt senior could've pieced together some combination of his other entertainment interests to fill his time. For instance, he could have spent more time with friends or immersed himself in video games. Or maybe devoted more time to a flirtation with golf or playing trumpet in the school band. Thomas also could have gained a head start on college and his ultimate goal of a degree in biomedical engineering.

Considering the lifetime of challenges he's faced in swimming, those seemed more tenable options.

Instead, Thomas chose the tougher path.

"My life is swimming," he said. "I've been in water so much, I've never looked back."

By "looking back," Thomas means ignoring a disability that would have turned many youngsters away from the pool. He was born without 65 percent of his pointer finger on his left hand and with a thumb that's only about 90-percent intact. The other three fingers stop at the top of the knuckle. As DeWitt coach Brock Delaney explains, much of a swimmer’s success comes from the power of fingers and subsequent strength in the hands – and without that combination, swimmers are at an immediate disadvantage.

But rather than letting those obstacles keep him high and dry, Thomas has excelled and finished this season with a historic first. He qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in the 200-yard individual medley and finished 29th and also competed in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition event and topped all divisions with a time of 54.07 seconds. In doing so, Thomas became the first competitor to swim that combination at a Finals meet.

Thomas additionally this winter made DeWitt's Century Club of swimmers who have amassed 100 points in a season for the second time, and he has earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) Paralympic All-American honors in the 200-yard freestyle (1:56.64), 200 IM (2:08.21), and 500 free (5:11.58). He also competes in Paralympic swimming as part of the Mid-Michigan Aquatics Club.

To some, the quest for those achievements likely would seem a long and difficult path. But to Thomas, it's business as usual. A disability? What disability, offers Thomas, whose ultimate goal is swimming in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always loved swimming," he said. "When I'm in the water, I never worry about anything. I just feel free."

Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. And Thomas has found a way to even the playing field, Delaney said.

"He's such a hard worker who has made up for a left-hand deficiency," Delaney said. "He's legit, a strong kid who loves to swim. "

But determination can take a swimmer only so far. Delaney said Thomas, classified as an S10 swimmer for Paralympic events, has developed physical strategies to increase his performance. In the backstroke, for instance, Thomas swims with his left hand underwater to help in propulsion. For speed, Thomas tries to keep his body on his "power side."

The rest, Delaney said, is simply heart.

"He moved here from Alma between his eighth grade and freshmen years," he said. "If not our hardest worker, he's in the top three. He's got something not all athletes have."

Thomas said one of the chief reasons he spends so much time around pools is the type of person he finds there. He describes people who combine encouragement and understanding with a will to compete despite any perceived physical shortcomings. What he's learned from them not only explains his swim career, but teaches valuable life lessons as well.

In fact, Thomas' career plans, beginning at Hope College in the fall, include securing a degree in biomedical engineering with an ultimate plan to help build prosthetics.

"Getting to know people in the prosthetic field really interests me," he said. "Swimming and prosthetics have been a nice tie-in with school. Prosthetics ties it all together for me."

Thomas said he can think of only a single instance where he questioned whether he should follow his love of swimming. But that thought quickly passed, and he's thrown himself into the sport ever since.

"I wouldn't trade my disability for the world," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities. The whole club and school thing and getting to the state meet never would have happened.”

Thomas will swim at Hope, and his goal is to qualify for the 200 IM at the Los Angeles Paralympic games. Thomas estimates he's within 15 seconds of qualifying in that meet's long course event.

"It's achievable," he said. "For sure it's doable."

Whether he makes it to Los Angeles or if his swim career quietly winds down, Thomas, who describes himself as competitive, said he still will have gained something for which everyone strives, athlete or not.

"Water has always been a safe spot for me," he said. "I think I've always used it as kind of a break from life. It helps clear my head.

“I've always been taught that you get out of work what you put into it. Work always pays off in the end. I've always remembered that.”

PHOTOS (Top) Aaron Thomas races for the DeWitt swimming & diving team. (Middle) Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. (Photos provided by the DeWitt swimming & diving program and Thomas family.)