By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
In 1987, Monty Wilder was hired as the first coach for the new soccer team at the old Laurel County High School. He was handed the task of building a program from the ground up. In his third year (and second varsity season), Wilder led the Cardinals to a district runner-up title. Any success that South Laurel and North Laurel have had in soccer can be traced back to those early years under Wilder.
Now 25 years later, another Wilder hopes to duplicate that success, as Wilder’s daughter, Sarah, has been hired as coach of the newly formed swim team at South Laurel High School. While it’s not rare for a child to follow a parent into the coaching ranks, it is rare for both to start new programs from scratch. Sarah Wilder said the uniqueness wasn’t lost on her.
“I thought about it,” Wilder said. “It’s pretty well known that he started the soccer program at Laurel County. It did occur to me, and I mentioned it to him one night.”
“I’m thrilled for her,” her father said. “I knew this is something she wanted to do. In the summer she coached swimming at the London Country Club. I think it was either Sarah or (his wife) Linda who was the first to mention it (both starting newprograms). I hadn’t really thought about it until then.”
“I always wanted to be a coach,” his daughter said. “I didn’t think it would be in swimming. I had two great swim coaches that inspired me, Jared Martin and Scarlett Parsley. I’m excited to be a part of this. Both my brother and I would have loved to swim in high school.” She was also coached by her father at North Laurel when she played on the golf team.
Wilder said that he hasn’t really given his daughter too much coaching advice.
“Mine (starting the soccer program) was a little different situation,” Wilder said. “She knows the kids well. She’s coached many of them in the summer. I came in cold turkey. I didn’t know any of the players.”
“Swimming and soccer are so different it’s hard to compare,” Sarah Wilder said. “In swimming I’m mostly coaching individuals where dad had to build a team. I have to work with the team and build them as individuals.”
Wilder was thrilled with the turnout during swimming tryouts
“I had 32 try out,” Wilder said. “I was shocked at the number of kids who were interested. There might have been 10 who swam before. It’s exciting to see that much interest.” She said a lot of those who have tried out are middle school age.
The elder Wilder isn’t surprised with the interest shown in swimming.
“There’s around 90 kids at London Country Club, and at least that many at Crooked Creek,” Wilder said of the two local swims clubs. “That’s right around 200 kids. That tells you there’s some interest.”
Wilder works at in the public relations department at Union College where South Laurel will practice and hold its swim meets. Since she is already there, a teacher was needed to ride the bus with the team, so Caprica Sizemore has been hired as her assistant coach. Wilder said Sizemore handles a lot of the stuff that she can’t during the school day.
One of the things swimmers will have to get used to at the high school level is the longer distances they will have to swim. All races are at least 100 meters, and some 400.
“The expression on their faces when I told them how long they had to swim was priceless,” Wilder said. “Most of them had never swam that far before in a competitive race.”
Those looks were probably similar to the ones her father got from his first soccer team when he told them they had to run the steps leading up to the old Marymount Hospital or the 13th Street hill that leads to a cemetery.
Wilder believes it might take a few years to become competitive in the region, especially since it includes teams from Lexington and Richmond. But many believed the same thing when her father started the soccer program, and he proved them wrong.
“We’re getting a late start,” Wilder said. “We’ve got another week of tryouts, then a week of practices, then our first meet. They are all learning and there are several who have potential. But to qualify for state you have to finish in the top two in the region or in the top 22 after those who qualify.”
Wilder knows she has a big job ahead of her, but so did her father 25 years ago. And he built Laurel County into one of the region’s top teams.