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Golden in Hutchinson: Rory Fairbanks has helped win three state swimming titles, with some help from his DL roots

If winning state championships is a good barometer of success, Detroit Lakes native Rory Fairbanks has been golden.

After becoming the head swimming and diving coach for the Hutchinson Tigers 11 years ago, Fairbanks has collected three state team championships, three state runner-up finishes, nine section titles, nine individual and seven relay state banners.

It's a long list of success for the soft-spoken former Laker, and it's been a great fit for both Fairbanks and the Hutchinson swimming program.

Fairbanks is also the Tigers' head boys' swimming and diving coach for the last two years, in which Hutchinson has twice finished 10th in the state as a team.

"I did walk into a good tradition of swimming when I came to Hutchinson," Fairbanks said. "They have a very good club team and when I got here, their new eight-lane swimming facility was only two years old. I walked in and said, 'Wow! I'm going to have to adjust my practices and practice styles because of the new facility.'"

Fairbanks was the head girls' swimming and diving coach for the Lakers from 1995-99 and is a 1989 DLHS graduate, as well.

But being only a substitute teacher and swimming coach wasn't enough financially to support Fairbanks and his family, so when the offer came up for the Hutchinson job, he took it, along with a full time teaching position.

Fairbanks' experience as DL's head coach for those five years was invaluable, as well as getting to know Hutchinson's swimming pioneer Jerry Carlson, who spearheaded getting the Tigers a swimming team in 1964.

"I did a statewide search for a job and financially, I had to move on from DL," Fairbanks said. "I knew Jerry Carlson through some coaching clinics and he had a lot of pull to help me land the job."

The Hutchinson girls' team had won the state title in 1992 and were state runners-up in 1998, while establishing a foothold in the state swimming scene when Fairbanks arrived.

There was pressure early on to show the community he could succeed, so Fairbanks did tread more lightly that first season.

"My first year, I came in not wanting to screw the kids up," Fairbanks said. "We went through the season ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season, won our conference and finished fifth in the state.

"That really got things rolling and gave me some confidence, the way the girls and their parents reacted."

Fairbanks used a hybrid of coaching philosophies he learned through his life. The first came from his DL head swimming coach, Mike Daly, and the second from Carlson.

"I used Mike Daly's college way of training with long yards and Carlson, who is my mentor at Hutchinson, believes more in sprints like 25-50 yards," Fairbanks said. "So I took the best of both worlds and combined them."

The competition the Tigers see was also a world of difference from when he was at DL. Hutchinson's old conference included some top ranked teams.

Three teams in Hutchinson's conference -- including the Tigers -- finished as the top three squads in the state meet in 2003 and 2004.

"We are considered Metro by the outstate teams and outstate by the Metro teams," Fairbanks said. "Our numbers are a little better than Detroit Lakes', since we had 31-32 kids out this year.

"But we are facing teams with 60-70 swimmers from the Metro."

This year's state championship team had a different makeup than Fairbanks' previous other two.

Instead of winning multiple individual titles, this year's team used its depth to claim the gold. The Tigers had just one individual state championship this year, which came in the 400 freestyle relay.

That's quite a difference from 2003, when the Tigers had five state individual titles (all state records) and 2004, with its six individual championships.

"The girls knew Monticello was a very tough team and we knew we would have to nickel and dime them," Fairbanks said.

Hutchinson had 22 state entries, with all 12 events covered by 12 individuals. Monticello had 16 entries.

After preliminaries, Hutchinson lost eight entries and a total of 50 potential points.

"We definitely were disappointed after Friday's prelims," Fairbanks said. "But the kids did every one swim like we had to have them finish, plus a couple of extra better finishes.

"I think this state championship is a little more special, just because of the way the girls fought back after the way we positioned ourselves after the prelims."

Fairbanks was obviously well aware of the rivalry between his senior Audrey Kumm and Laker Melissa Paakh, who had battled it out in the 100-yard butterfly for three straight years.

Kumm won the state gold in 2008 and 2009 over Paakh, but the Laker won Saturday's 100 butterfly final race for DL's first-ever state championship in swimming.

Kumm -- who committed to swim at the University of Iowa -- is a six-time state champ individually, after collecting two 100 butterflies, one 200 IM and being a part of three state relay championship teams.

"Audrey kept asking me throughout the season about Melissa and how she was doing and they knew each other from club swimming, as well," Fairbanks said. "It is a good, friendly rivalry. It was really good see the two hugging each other after (Saturday's) 100-butterfly race. Audrey was really bummed she didn't win, but she told me point blank that she was really happy for Melissa.

"Melissa's state title was well deserved."

With all the success Hutchinson has had over the last decade in girls' swimming and diving, there is still a hint of Laker in Fairbanks.

"My experience in DL was invaluable," Fairbanks said.

"Having my old coach Mike Daly there and working for him with the boys' team was special. The parents in DL are also amazing. They are the ones who helped keep swimming going when I was there.

"Their swimming program is just a great testament to the hard work by the DL community."

Fairbanks has definitely found success in Hutchinson -- and it's not all defined by state championships, either.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.