Just as much a tradition as state swimming contenders, Fort Gibson has produced more than its share of medical professionals.
Leslie White seemed headed that way after completing her degree in English at Oklahoma Baptist, when she enrolled in physician assistant’s school at Northeastern State.
Then, longtime head coach Connie Dean begin contemplating retirement.
White had been helping out when home from school and had returned again to help this season, with her OBU swimming career behind her. Dean zeroed in on her replacement, which was one of the program’s most successful swimmers.
It was November.
“It wasn’t on my radar at the time,” White said, now handed the reins of the program Dean coached for two decades. “I thought she’d keep going. She said she wanted to leave it with somebody who would carry it and care about it. I told her I’d think about it and then it kind of popped into my lap.”
Dean had seen it as a fit.
White, 24, actually cut her teeth working while on the swim team helping out with the Tiger Sharks junior program. That group from the time she left high school will be part of her first high school squad.
“I’d have her do some mini-clinics from time to time and it just seemed natural,” Dean said. “We worked well together, the kids listen to her, especially the breast-strokers — which is what she excelled at. She’s soft-spoken, not as loud and outspoken as me, but she connects well with the kids.
“The administration asked me about her age difference and I said if I thought that would be a deterrent I wouldn’t have brought her name up. It’ll be different. I was different, but she’s been part of this program, she’s familiar with it and the kids and I think it will be a smooth transition.”
White as a senior won the 100-meter breaststroke, missing the state record by .10 seconds, finished second in the 200-yard individual medley, was a key member of two relay champions and also Phoenix Female Athlete of the Year in 2014.
She was part of the NAIA team champions at OBU in 2015. OBU applied and received NCAA status but competed only at the conference level the next two years. Her senior year she was an NCAA All-American in the 200 medley relay, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record holder and champion in the 200 medley relay, first team All-RMAC in the 200 medley relay, and member of the conference’s athletic director’s honor roll.
She’s finishing up her alternative teaching credentials. And she’ll be at poolside the entire day, coaching grades 3-8 in it prior to the high schoolers in the afternoon.
“The shock isn’t quite gone yet,” she said of her new reality. “I worked with Connie on the schedule for next season. We’ve got a lot of good kids. I like to have fun a lot, my workouts tend to be more sprint-based and shorter than Connie’s. It’s going to be an experience for sure, but I’m excited for it.”