First, it’s not a conflict of interest. That’s one of the most important things to understand about Lyn Smith coaching at two different schools.
She’s served this season as the head coach of swimming at both 4A East Chapel Hill High School and Pittsboro’s 3A Northwood High. Really, that makes for four teams, since she coaches the males and females for both varsities simultaneously.
And by “simultaneously,” that means she literally has them all in the pool at the same time: East swimmers with Northwood’s, the Chargers with Wildcats, side by side at Homestead Aquatic Center when they practice on weekdays.
East had a varsity of 52 this season, which concluded with last week’s N.C. High School Athletics Association championships in Cary. (See newsobserver.com for results of the championships.) Northwood had a roster of just 15.
In all, Smith would gather an average of about 40 swimmers at a typical practice – 35 to 40 from East and 12-13 from Northwood.
Each practice would end with the melded teams putting their hands into the middle of a circle and chanting “1-2-3 ... ’Cats! ... 1-2-3 ... Chargers!”
“At first it was a little confusing,” East Chapel Hill’s Nico Perez said. “We had never seen them before. But Lyn made it work; she was super passionate about it, and she always had the goal of helping all of us be the very best we could be.”
Northwood’s Hannah Gail Shepherd says swimming alongside the Wildcats, whose pedigree includes 16 state team championships, has indeed helped the Chargers.
“Swimming with them has made us better,” Shepherd said. “They’re a 4A team, a bigger team, and they swim faster times. They’ve helped us swim faster.”
Smith has coached East Chapel Hill for seven years. Six years ago, she became a health and physical education teacher at Northwood.
Last year, a group of Northwood parents approached Smith about coaching the Chargers. She and Northwood athletics director Jason Amy checked with the NCHSAA to make sure such double-coaching was allowed. They were surprised to find out it was more common than they thought.
“It turns out there are some coaches working with as many as five teams at once,” Smith said.
Smith is delighted to see things work out as they have. The teams worked together on almost everything, including team-bonding activities like volunteering as a single group at the Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill.
With Chapel Hill as its only nearby 3A rival, Northwood joined in at most of what would have been dual-meets for East.
“I want to build the program at Northwood into something for them that they can be proud of. And it’s working out,” Smith said.
“And it’s been an amazing year for East,” she said, noting East’s girls team finished just 21.5 points out of first place in the 4A regionals, and the boys team was 18 points out of first.
“And the team bonding has been more than I could have imagined at the beginning of the season.”