If Dalton High School swimmer Henry Bethel wore all his state championship swimming medals at once, maybe then he'd be slowed down enough to give his competitors a better shot.
Bethel just finished up his high school swimming career at Dalton with four more individual championships and two state records at the state swimming meet at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Feb. 5. He has 15 of those medals, to be precise. His 13 individual and two team state championships make him the most decorated swimmer in Dalton High history.
"I was just blessed to be able to swim for and represent Dalton High School during my time here," Bethel said.
Bethel and the swim team wrapped up another impressive year at the state meet, though the Catamounts fell short of the team state championship this year. Dalton finished second to Johns Creek after Bethel and his fellow seniors won the Class 6A competition in 2020 and 2018.
Bethel won the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard breaststroke championship events, and was also on the four-person relay squad that brought home a best time in two separate events. Bethel, Daniel Melgarejo, Roman Valdez and Orrin Withrow won the 200-yard freestyle relay with a finish in 1:23.81, while the same group was victorious in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:05.51.
Valdez was also the champion in the 100-yard freestyle event with a time of 44.63. Valdez finished second in the 200-yard freestyle to Centennial's Sebastien Sergile.
"These guys worked so hard this season while dealing with COVID," Dalton head coach Sharlinda Haight said.
COVID-19 forced quarantines on a few swimmers throughout the season, including Bethel.
"The whole season was different," Bethel said. "We had fewer competitions than we usually do. The whole goal was to qualify and stay healthy for the state meet."
Bethel competed in four meets during the season, down from a more normal schedule of around 10.
Bethel said he was pleased with his individual performance at the state meet, but wished he could have helped his squad win a team title.
"Our goal was always to go in and win as a team," Bethel said. "For high school swimming, that's always the goal. It always leaves a sour taste in your mouth to lose."
Haight said Bethel's impact on the swim team at Dalton goes well beyond his results in the water.
"I know what we're losing in Henry as a swimmer, but we're also losing a leader," Haight said.
Bethel said the team shares his views. Individual accolades are nice, but a team title is the ultimate goal. Bethel said that's a big reason Dalton has found success in a sport usually dominated by Atlanta-area schools.
"They dominate the sport, but the reason we have so much success is we go out and compete for our team," Bethel said. "As much as swimming is an individual sport, we treat it as a team sport."
After finishing up his time at Dalton, Bethel's focus now shifts to preparing for college. He'll be swimming at Auburn University next year.
"I had that thought coming back from the state meet that the next team cap I would put on would be for Auburn," Bethel said.