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COMMUNITY SPORTS: Barracudas benefit from Olympian's app

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Youth swim meets speed along with the help of 2012 gold medalist Houchin’s Meet Central app

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

If you’ve ever been to a swim meet, you know they have a tendency to drag on. There’s lots of down time between heats and events, as timekeepers and meet officials scramble to make sure every score is recorded correctly.

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It can be a grind for fans and participants alike, said Charlie Houchin, part of the U.S. 4x200 freestyle relay squad led by the legendary Michael Phelps that won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

So with an entrepreneurial spirit, Houchin decided to parlay the money he made from his gold medal into creating an app — Meet Central — designed to take a lot of the hassle out of youth swim meets.

“It’s a wireless, paperless meet program,” said Robin Leake, coach of the Bardstown Barracudas swim team. The Barracudas are part of the Kentuckiana Swim Association (KSA), which is using Meet Central for the first time this summer.

“Everybody knows (their results) immediately,” Leake said. “We sat there (at a recent meet), and within 10 minutes after the meet, we had the complete results published.”

Timekeepers use smartphones to record results, and each participant has a unique ID number that goes into the system, making it easy for swimmers and coaches to track all of their past performances and compare times. Parents and fans are encouraged to follow along at the meets. The KSA is the first league in Kentucky using the program, Houchin said, and he’s hopeful that leagues based in Lexington and Northern Kentucky will consider Meet Central as well.

In an interview Thursday with The Standard, Houchin said he compared the 1 1/2-2 hours that it takes for a soccer game with the 4-6 hours it might take to complete a swim meet. With the Meet Central app — a business plan born out of a college term paper Houchin wrote while at the University of Michigan — the Olympian wanted to speed things up, and make it so anybody at the meet can follow along in real-time.

“(We want to) keep the action going, keep the results live, and keep everybody involved on the pool deck,” Houchin said. “There should be a race happening constantly — no dead time.”

So far so good, as far as Leake is concerned.

“As soon as one race ends, they click that timer and they’re ready to start another race,” she said.

It’s a development that keeps the kids focused, keeps things organized and moving along, and frees Leake up for more time for individual coaching of her 37 swimmers, she said, something that wasn’t an option when the meets were scored in the old-fashioned way.

Mary Laura Leake, who swims and helps her mother coach, appreciates how the app has changed meets for them, in a good way.

“It just runs so smoothly,” she said. “I feel like (swimmers) actually have a better understanding of what’s going on. They really like having their results right then.”

The Bardstown Barracudas wrap up their season on Saturday with the KSA championships at the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center in Louisville. The U10 events begin at 9 a.m., and events for those 11 and older get started at 1 p.m.