A growing rift between the North Texas Nadadores (NTN) and the Southlake Carroll school district that owns it is threatening the future of a once-dominant swim club that broke three national age group (NAG) records just last year.
Tensions reached a boiling point two weeks ago at a Futures meet when an incident on the pool deck in College Station accelerated the departure of rising star Maximus Williamson along with several coaches. The club currently has zero coaches on staff, and membership numbers have dropped from more than 300 a few years ago to only about 65 committed for this fall, with no national level swimmers among the group.
Over the past decade-plus, NTN has essentially functioned as a feeder program for Carroll’s high school swimming team. The Dragons have developed into a powerhouse under head coach Kevin Murphy, capturing 10 of the past 12 high school state titles in Class 6A — the division with the biggest schools in Texas. Now there are concerns that the pipeline might be running dry.
What began with complaints about low pay and mistreatment by Carroll high school coaches escalated this spring when all but one NTN coach tendered their resignations. Most opted to stay through the summer to help with the club’s transition of leadership, but the recent poolside dispute between incoming head coach Travis Kiser and acting head coach Dan Balint has left the club searching for answers in the wake of both their resignations.
A few days after Kiser returned to Texas from North Carolina, where he spent three years as an assistant at Division I Gardner-Webb University, he showed up at Futures on July 27. Kiser’s official start date was still weeks away on August 15.
Balint had arranged for assistant coach Andrew Warwick to take over for him on Saturday so he could leave to attend another meet, but Kiser and the district disapproved. Warwick, like Balint, had already notified the district of his intentions to leave in August. Worried that Warwick was uninvested in his role and might convince swimmers to follow him to another club, the district relegated Warwick to administrative duties and canceled his hotel room in College Station. Warwick said not only is poaching club members against USA Swimming rules, but also that it would be impossible since he remains undecided on his next coaching destination.
Already frustrated with administrators and the loss of the club’s morning pool time to Carroll’s high school teams, Balint reached his limit when Kiser refused to let Warwick coach. They tried working things out over the phone later, but Balint ultimately quit that night after 13 years with the club.
The next morning, July 28, the behind-the-scenes drama continued to spill over onto the pool deck. When Kiser arrived at Futures around 7 a.m., he was removed from the Texas A&M Natatorium after a heated exchange with the meet director for lacking proper credentials.
Williamson and the other six NTN swimmers at the meet made themselves unattached and turned their swim caps inside out following the incident amid concerns that they might be scratched from races without their consent. After it was confirmed that Kiser wouldn’t have credentials to do so, the rest of the group besides Williamson reattached with NTN. Balint coached the rest of the meet unattached while Warwick was the coach of record for NTN.
After a wave of outrage from parents, Kiser was asked to resign on August 3. He apologized for his expired certifications, but said he was going to update his credentials during his first official day on the job. Kiser, who swam at Bryan High School under Murphy, claimed he was not given a fair shot, instead thrust into a difficult situation that could potentially tarnish his career.
Balint, for one, doesn’t fault Kiser as much as the administration’s mismanagement, and he’s not alone in believing that the program’s problems start toward the top.
In March, Carroll hired a new aquatics director, Mike Wyrick, who was coming off a stint as principal of Durham Intermediate School within the district. At his previous job, parents alleged he failed to protect the school’s most vulnerable students.
An NBC News podcast released in March shined a spotlight on one incident in particular involving a 12-year-old LGBTQ+ student who says his classmates encouraged him to act on suicidal thoughts last year. They allegedly took a piece of volleyball net and tied it around the football goal post to create a noose.
When the student’s mom, Christina Edmondson, met with Wyrick the following week, the principal said he and his staff hadn’t reviewed footage or opened an investigation yet. Wyrick assured Edmondson that he and his staff would look into it, but six months passed and she didn’t hear an update. The district then denied her request to fire Wyrick, noting that he and other principals had since been retrained in how to investigate student allegations. Soon after, he was hired as Carroll’s aquatics director on a six-figure salary despite having no prior experience in the aquatics industry.
Ed Hernandez, an NTN swim parent, said that Wyrick is also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
“Mr. Wyrick is the subject of an active Office of Civil Rights investigation related to allegations that he reported my family to Child Protective Services,” Hernandez said. “He also threatened my family with truancy as retaliation for grievances that we filed against him in the fall of 2021. These grievances were related to his failure to keep our special needs son safe on his campus. In a recent deposition, a district staff member reported that he celebrated after he denied our son legally-required services.”
Wyrick and most other athletic department officials from Carroll did not respond to requests for comment. Assistant swim and water polo coach Paul Wallace was the only current district employee who spoke to SwimSwam about the situation. He placed the blame on a handful of departing coaches and parents for burning the place down on their way out.
“It’s just toxic, man,” Wallace said. “It’s almost a reflection of the culture we live in. You get a group of parents who get up on their soapbox. There’s a portion of the community that, no questions asked, no discussions, what a certain group of people said is the truth.”
In the aftermath of the latest debacle, a local swimming rivalry has been reinvigorated. At the high school level, Williamson will transfer down the road to nearby Keller for his sophomore year. A super team appears to be taking shape at Keller between Williamson, fellow U.S. National Junior Team member Cooper Lucas, and Lubbock transfer River Paulk.
Lucas, a soon-to-be junior, is SwimSwam’s No. 2 high school recruit for the class of 2024. Paulk, also a rising junior, is the reigning 5A state champ in the 100 free. Last year, Williamson twice broke the boys 13-14 NAG record in the 200-meter freestyle. In December, he also became the fastest 15-year-old American ever in the 200 IM (1:44.75). Together, the trio could very well be a threat to take down state and national high school relay records alike.
At the club level, Williamson plans to join Lakeside Aquatic Club for Winter Junior Nationals, where he’ll be eligible to compete for a different club following the 120-day waiting period. Balint will coach Williamson through Junior Pan Pacs.
NTN’s relay team that broke the girls 13-14 200 free relay NAG record last summer is staying at Carroll — for now — but they are slated to switch clubs. Vivian Anderson, Emma Bibza, and Olivia Colombo are moving to the Lakeside Aquatic Club while Marin Clem is training with the Dallas Mustangs.
NTN is aiming to resume activities later this month as planned, but the club needs to find new coaches in the next 10 days.
NTN most recently was recognized as a bronze medal club by USA Swimming last year, but they earned silver medal club status from 2010-18.
The club has an impressive history of producing star collegiate swimmers, especially in the boys’ freestyle events. Among NTN’s notable alumni are Jonathan Roberts, Jack LeVant, and Brett Ringgold. Roberts was a 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials finalist in the 200 free, just missing the Olympic team. LeVant swam at the 2019 World Championships as a member of the U.S. 800 free relay team and Ringgold was a four-time NCAA champion as a member of the University of Texas relays.
“NTN has a long history of constantly producing and developing some of the world’s fastest swimmers,” said Shannon Pritchett, a former NTN coach who left last summer to focus on her family and new job at a tech startup. “In a town of 30,000, this is almost unheard of. NTN had restrictions of often not being able to accept other swimmers that didn’t live within the CISD school district, which is one of the wealthiest school districts in Texas. With restrictions on the talent pool, it was absolutely incredible to see what NTN was able to build. It is beyond unfortunate to see an elite program collapse at the hands of a high school program that never respected it. At the end of the day, it was the swimmers that suffered, and that is what is most painful.
“To this day, I still feel guilt for resigning,” Pritchett added. “Although I was still present for my swimmers in the stand, I have never felt more hopeless watching this program collapse. I was hoping to return one day to coach my son. It’s disheartening to know it won’t be with NTN.”