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The Rockets new head coach is a 1998 graduate of Spring Grove


Derrick Henning dealt with the first big dilemma of his head coaching career Thursday.

It was minutes before Spring Grove's meet against Gettysburg on Thursday, and instead of getting his swimmers ready, Henning was stuck trying to figure out why the timing system in the Rockets' natatorium wasn't working. Eventually, both teams were forced to use stopwatches instead.

If he was still just an assistant, Henning probably wouldn't have been looked at to fix such a tedious problem. But not everything that comes with being a head coach is positive.

"There's all the extra headaches that come with it," Henning said after the meet Thursday. "Just like today with the timing system. That's really the biggest stuff."

That doesn't mean Henning isn't thrilled to have his new position. Previously an assistant swimming and diving coach at Spring Grove for nine years, Henning is now the man in charge of both for the Rockets.

Henning's connection to Spring Grove goes beyond coaching. He grew up in the school district and competed for both the swimming and diving teams in high school from 1995 to 1998. Following his graduation from Penn State, Henning was hired at Spring Grove as a chemistry teacher, and he couldn't be happier to have stayed in the same place for so long.

"It's awesome to be here, and my kids will go here so it's great to take this program and keep it going," Henning said. "It's very rewarding because you get to see what (the school) has done, you get to come back and thank (your old teachers), and they get to see and cheer you on."

While it almost seems to have been Hennings' destiny to become head coach of Rockets, it didn't look like it was in the cards just a few years ago. After serving as an assistant from 2003 to 2010, Henning took a three-year break from coaching to focus on raising his three young sons.

But he came back as the diving coach in 2014 before getting the head swimming job this season when Peggy Kile left the team. So far, the Rockets' girls squad is 2-0 while the boys are 1-1 after losing to Gettysburg, 95-80, Thursday.

It's still early, but Henning has been having a blast so far.

"It's great because I get to decide the direction and really get these swimmers going," Henning said. "I get to see the benefits of what we're doing and hear directly from the swimmers that it's working. I've done the behind the scenes stuff before, and now it's taking the team where we want to go."

Henning's teaching experience has helped him strengthen his relationship with his swimmers, who didn't know him as a coach until last season. Senior captain Corey Roberts said that being in Henning's class last year made it easier for him to get to know his coach.

"During school if you have a question about swimming you can to his classroom during the day," Roberts said. "I know how he teaches so it helps a lot. He's pretty much the same guy as a teacher that is he is as a coach."

It hasn't all been easy for Henning, who admitted that swimming has become a much more technical sport since he stopped competing. In order to learn about some of the sport's new techniques and strategies such as counting strokes, Henning took time to speak with his old high school coach, Jim Gingerich, who is now the head coach at Central York.

Henning might still be learning, but he's glad to be where he is.

"Swimming's really changed," Henning said. "Back when I was swimming it was about how many yards you swam not what your stroke looked like. It took a lot of research and help from others. There's a lot of good things going on because they have the technical background they didn't have when I was swimming."

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