BLOOMINGTON — Children of star athletes must be wary if they journey into the sports world where there can be a lot to live up to.
Robby Pratt, however, long ago threw caution to the wind and took a cannonball dive into swimming, the sport in which his father, John, placed sixth for Bloomington High School in the 1980-81 state meet 100-yard butterfly.
The elder Pratt, who went on to compete for the University of Kentucky, had a high school best of 52.16 seconds, which stood as the BHS record until Justin Wolfe, the 2008 state champion, whittled the record to 49.72.
In Saturday’s Normal West Sectional, Robby, a BHS junior, for the first time surpassed his father’s 52.16 with a winning 50.51, which ranks sixth in Pantagraph area history and makes him the No. 8 seed for Friday and Saturday’s 89th state meet in Winnetka.
Robby’s reputation as a butterfly specialist has evolved in recent years as his prowess in the 100 breaststroke blossomed.
In the sectional, his winning 57.65 broke the breaststroke school record of 58.41 set by Shaun Wolfe in 2010 and made Pratt the state meet’s No. 5 seed. In area history, only Justin Alderson of the Metamora co-op has gone faster at 57.15.
Pratt, whose sectional exploits came despite a recent sinus infection, could tell his father was proud and happy.
“It’s fun to swim when my dad’s there,” he said.
The father, who remains involved in Masters swimming, began taking his son to the pool at a young age.
“He coached me a lot when I was younger, but he doesn’t really coach me much now,” Pratt says. “He just likes to watch now.”
The Pratts leave the coaching to Jen Godlewski and her assistant, Bob Loy, who coached John in high school.
“I feel I have two of the best high school coaches around in Coach Loy and Coach Godlewski,” said Pratt, who placed 35th in last year’s state breaststroke after failing to advance from the sectional butterfly by 25 hundredths of a second.
Loy credits John Pratt for being a huge influence on his son, a Division I college prospect who has his father’s same aggressive attitude in practice.
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“Robby gets in there and he’ll do whatever you ask him to do,” Loy said.
Swimming rewards lung power, something Pratt also uses as an all-state tuba player.
“For tuba, I practice taking big quick breaths and controlling my exhale, which you do in the water,” he said.
Godlewski, who also coached Pratt through the age-group ranks, said the butterfly and breaststroke are both short-axis strokes that require the same rhythm and dolphin action.
“It was so much fun watching him (Saturday), especially that last 12½ yards when people will just kind of give up," she added. "He just really digs deep and he finds stuff a lot of swimmers don’t.”
Pratt has the upper body strength of a wrestler.
“There are different muscle groups that you work similarly in both the fly and the breast and I think I’m strong in those areas,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of people doing fly and breast, but it works for me.”
Pratt’s state goals are to match or better his top times and crack the top 12. His commitment can be seen in the fact he shaved his head for the sectional to lessen drag.
“You see the guys in the Olympics and they don’t really do that anymore,” he admits. “They wear swim caps. I’m not a big swim cap guy. It’s fun to go bald for a little while.”
In his second year as a team captain, Pratt is highly regarded among the Purple Raiders, many of whom are training this week even though their seasons are over just so he won’t have to practice alone.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at without my big group of teammates,” said Pratt, a tennis player in the spring. “We all support each other. They push me and I push them. Going to state and swimming is not just for me. It’s definitely for those guys, too.”
They’re like family, one in which chasing stardom is nothing to fear.