If not for the efforts of one man, the swimming culture here in the Tri-States might be vastly different. Before Jake DeCoster, kids in Northeast Missouri didn't have the opportunity to compete. But he changed all that, and has continued providing that opportunity for 50 years.
"I think the first time a kid ever swims 25 meters, they go from grabbing the ropes and the side of the pool, sometimes there's tears and parents throwing them in the pool, to making a link to the pool, and that's an achievement. It sticks with them for the rest of their life for some of them,"
From the first few strokes, all the way to earning a college scholarship - Jake DeCoster has seen it all from his students. Now in his 50th year of coaching, his influence on area swimmers started small when he was just 15 years old.
"We were going to build a pool in Canton, but we started swimming at Culver-Stockton at an indoor pool that may not even be there anymore. But we built the pool in Canton and started the swim team. Our first meet was with Sheridan, but we only knew how to do freestyle and backstroke, so they had to jump in the pool and show us butterfly and breaststroke. It's been a learning process, but we've come a long way since then,"
Ever since that first meet, DeCoster has volunteered five decades of time to build the sport in Northeast Missouri. He currently coaches the CanOka swim team, made up of around 100 kids who are learning to see the sport the way Jake sees it.
"Your success depends on how hard you work. You can't get lucky in swimming, you can't play defense - all you can control is what you do. By and large, the people that work the hardest have the best success and are the ones who have what it takes to be successful. I think it's a fair sport,"
And his former students have branched out to all parts of the country, many as Division I swimmers. Just because you learn the sport in a small community doesn't mean you can't one day compete in a much bigger setting.
"I think that's what the kids learn swimming for us at CanOka - it doesn't matter where you're from, because we've been competitive here so you can be competitive wherever. They go places and have success where other people would never even think of trying out for the swim team,"
You don't have to say much else about Jake DeCoster's career - fifty years says it all. Fifty years and counting.
"No sign of stopping right now? No end in sight?"
"I never intended to go 50 years. Fifteen years ago, I never thought I'd be doing this at 65 or back when I was 35. You don't really think about it. I've never really said I would do it until my kids quit or whenever. It's still fun, and as long as its fun for me and the kids, we'll see,"