BUFFS ROUNDUP: Friday, April 10, 2020
Emma Dirks had been swimming for the better part of her youthful years, including her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons as a member of the Garden City High School Lady Buffs swim team.
So it would be natural that she was looking forward to closing out her high school career with the sport that she loves most.
“I’ve been swimming for a really long time,” Dirks said in a recent interview. “It was all building to this moment. I think we were going to have a strong team that was going to do some big things. We were focused on winning WAC (Western Athletic Conference). We were having a lot of fun.
“We had some incoming freshmen who were going to be really good, and we had some other newcomers, so it was a good mix and we were all really focused. I had worked harder in the off-season to come back where I left off at the end of last season. And I really felt when we did our first time trials, that I was on track to see some big improvements in my times.”
Dirks’ specialties came in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events – grueling events that require a lot of long-distance conditioning. She had clocked a 2:30 in the 200 and 6:50 in the 500 during her junior campaign. The 500 time was one where she cut 30 seconds off her sophomore mark.
“Her work ethic, positive attitude, and leadership that she brought to the team were irreplaceable,” head coach Jennifer Meng said of Dirks. “She’s a great girl and I’m just so sad for the seniors who didn’t get to finish their careers.”
The cancellation of the spring sports schedule across the state of Kansas and most of America came during spring break in mid-March for Dirks.
“I was sitting at home and one of my friends texted me and said, ‘Did you hear things about cancellation?’ The first thing that went through my head was this is a joke. This can’t be happening. I called my Aunt who teaches in Wichita and asked her and she said, ‘Yes. It’s really happening.’ I was so upset at first.”
Once Dirks realized that her final nine weeks of her senior year would be much different, she began to figure out ways to make the best of a bad situation.
“I’m fortunate in that I had just five classes and two of those were filler classes so I only have three with much work to do,” she said of her academic workload. “Most of my teachers give us the assignment on Monday and we have to have it turned in by Friday. I really like that. It’s really nice not to wake up at 5 a.m. and get ready for zero hour.”
While bummed about missing her swim season, Dirks said she was more concerned about the possibility of not having her traditional graduation ceremony in mid-May.
“Prom’s not my main worry, but I really hope we can have a graduation celebration,” Dirks said. “Every kid looks forward to that. It’s your final chance to say goodbye to the school where you’ve finished up 12 years of education and then prepare for adulthood.”
Dirks said she remembers her final day of classes (March 13), just prior to the start of spring break week of March 16-20.
“I was in English class and talking to all of my friends and I think we were just telling each other that all will be well for a while,” Dirks said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated never being back in class here at the high school.”
Dirks said she has learned a lot about the COVID-19 outbreak from her mother, who works at St. Catherine Hospital.
“My mom knows a lot about it and I’m probably a little more worried about it now than before, but I try to be positive about it,” Dirks said.
With stay-at-home orders in place and social distancing requested, Dirks said she and her family have had more time at home during the last few weeks.
“We’ve started eating at home every night and that’s been very rare,” said Dirks, “since we’ve been getting home late from practice or work. We’ve been able to take some time and that’s a big change. I’ve had more free time and that’s been really nice.”
Dirks said her family has been playing the game Cornhole in their backyard on nice evenings and have been making the weekend a movie opportunity at home.
“I think this has caused me to not take things for granted,” Dirks said. “You don’t realize how much you enjoy your classes, your classmates and the ability to talk with your teachers. They all play a part in making you the person you are.”
Dirks said she hopes things might return to some sense of normalcy by summer so she can participate in summer swimming and also coaching some younger swimmers.
That will lead into her fall plans of attending Wichita State University, where she plans to pursue a degree in elementary and special education.
“I’m interested to see how some teachers are picking up on this new way of teaching and learning,” Dirks said.
Dirks indicated she was grateful that she was not pursuing a college scholarship for her swimming ability, but instead had participated more out of having fun and just trying to do her best each season.
“I think if I’d been trying to be recruited that would have been a game-changer for not having your senior season,” Dirks said. “College coaches look at specific times and your scholarship is dependent upon that. I’ve never been a star swimmer, and I’ve always done this for fun.”
The things she misses most are being with her teammates and the opportunity to provide leadership in her final season.
“I was one of a few who had been swimming all four years, and I was looking forward to being a leader to the younger girls,” Dirks said. “The freshmen could come and talk to me and we were all working hard in the workouts. I’ll never have that chance to see if I would have improved my times. That would have been cool to see. So in many ways I’m very disappointed. It’s been a crazy time, and we’re all just trying to make the best of it.”