Musically, Dempsey Schroeder is a natural. When it came to swimming he was a self-acknowledged klutz.
"I failed Level 4 swimming six times," he recalls. "But I liked the water. So I went out for swimming in seventh grade."
Six years later, he swims the butterfly and the backstroke, both technical strokes. He dropped big chunks of time off his previous best at State True Team on Saturday.
"Well, I don't know," he said of this striking improvement. "Mike McClain (a talented eighth grader seeded to earn about 40 points) was out ill so we knew all of us had to pick it up."
Willmar finished third for the second year in a row. Powerhouse St. Thomas Academy of Mendota Heights continued to dunk all challengers in Class A.
Willmar coach Carl Shuldes estimated 90 percent of his swimmers paddled for season- or all-time bests.
"I don't know what we're doing right, but we should keep doing it," he said with a chuckle.
It was Willmar's fourth meet in eight days after a six-week layoff from competition.
Schroeder wasn't going to come out for swimming his final winter at the high school.
"Someone talked me into it, so I came out two or three weeks late," said Schroeder.
That "someone" was sophomore backstroker and trombonist Kyle Rozendaal. He hadn't gone under one minute in the backstroke until last week when he did it three times culminating with a 58 seconds at True Team.
Schroeder also played soccer and ran distance in track. He finds all the physical activity does take him away at the end of the day from music.
"You come home tired from practice and you just want to eat and live on the couch," he said.
Dave and Darlene Schroeder live north of Pennock. Their son attended Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg through sixth grade.
Darlene said neither she nor her husband is a musician.
"It's basically Dempsey," said Darlene in a phone conversation this week. "He's self taught. He started with the fiddle and later picked up guitar and banjo, and he also plays the upright bass. He began playing the oboe in fourth grade and from that he also started playing sax.
The list continued with the harmonica, mandolin and a "little piano."
"He's really the first in the family to do any of this," continued Darlene. "He's fortunate to have an aptitude for music, but really had none for swimming."
Dempsey joined junior high band in seventh grade and noticed that he was further advanced than many of his classmates. His parents also nurtured his native talent by sending him to music camps in the summer.
He played violin in the pit band for the fall musical "Beauty and the Beast."
Band and orchestra teacher Terry Brau said he had real concerns heading into fall.
"We lost some excellent string people from last year's musical and I was worried," said Brau. "But Dempsey stepped right in and was wonderful. He worked so hard."
Brau and choir director Neil Haugen both see Dempsey as one of Willmar's High School special talents. Brau believes that Dempsey's ear and ability to improvise make him a better fiddle player (as in folk music) than violinist (as in classical).
Senior Ed Fenske helped arrange the other musicians in band and orchestra on the swim team for the photo for this article, but then missed the photo shoot himself.
Why was he late? "I was at a meeting for the speech team," said the three-sport athlete, who plays the alto sax.
His family moved here from Fond du Lac, Wis., and took up football and track as well as swimming?
"If it weren't for sports, I wouldn't be doing much with my time, I guess," he said.
On the fly
The high school is looking a jacking up participation fees to offset budget cuts. Principal Rob Anderson and Jamie Thompson agree that the last thing they want to do is slash activities.
The goal remains to get more kids involved, not fewer. Fee hikes are painful and the school board is moving cautiously. The first proposal presented would bounce the fee to $250 a sport with caps of $500 for individuals and $750 for a family.
The MSHSL league is also asking superintendents for feedback on reducing the number of contests - up to four for sports with over 20 dates and by two for teams with 10 to 20.