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Milton Hershey School Student Embraces Learning How to Swim

By Conner Darnofall, MHS Senior

When I enrolled at Milton Hershey School from Warren, Pennsylvania, in fifth grade, I didn’t know how to swim. I never had the opportunity to learn such a basic skill, but when I joined the swim team in sixth grade, I did what I didn’t think I could do—I learned how to swim in just one week.

Swimming taught me perseverance. I quickly understood that if I kept practicing, I would get better—and I did. Over the next several years, my teammates and coaches helped me hone my skills. MHS requires all students to learn how to swim in order to graduate—a requirement I’m very grateful for.

Milton Hershey School students interact with the school's swim coach.

Every high school swim team practice has challenged me and helped me grow my skills because of the resources offered to MHS athletes.

Once, a swim stroke specialist taught us how to do each stroke effectively and efficiently. We even got the chance to swim with Rowdy Gains—a United States Olympic Hall of Fame swimmer. He told us about his journey and explained how we can improve at the sport we love, before diving in the water with us and practicing some drills.

In addition to those opportunities, MHS recently renovated the competitive swimming pool on campus, which includes a six-lane lap pool and diving well.

MHS offers student-athletes the ability to practice during the off-season to ensure we are at our best when it’s time to compete. Not every high school is lucky enough to have these opportunities. It makes me proud to represent the Spartans inside and outside the pool.

I quickly discovered that if I gave everything I had to the sport, I could accomplish great things. My freshman year of high school, I was struggling in my student home and in the classroom. My coach helped me realize that to reach my potential as an athlete, I needed to reach my potential in all areas of my life. I used what I learned on the swim team to completely change the trajectory of my time at MHS. Around this same time, my coach took me as an alternate to the district swim meet. I finally saw what this sport could offer me. From this, a fire grew inside me, and I was ready to be the best I could be in the pool, in my student home, and in my classes.

After this, my coach saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself—leadership skills. Over the past several years she has strategically placed me in roles—big and small—that allowed me to grow. Today, I serve as the captain for my team and have used these skills to further my development in the pool, with my team, and peers in classrooms and student homes.

Milton Hershey School students stand near the pool.

Being a part of the MHS swim team is not just being a part of a sport. Without my teammates and awesome coaches, I certainly wouldn’t be the student, athlete, or person I am. Without even knowing it, swimming molded me into the person I wanted to be.

The swim team has given me experiences and tools I can use to grow in any area of my life. It has allowed me to understand myself and my abilities and given me a place where I can try new tactics on different problems to find the best solution. It has given me a second family and I love the team, sport, and community.

While my mother didn’t enroll me at MHS because I needed to learn how to swim, it was an outcome that I’m beyond grateful for. Spending time away from my home community and my family can be challenging at times, but I couldn’t agree with my mother’s decision more and am so glad she made the choice to enroll me here.

Learn More about Conner's StoryLearn More about the New MHS Pool in PennLive

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.