Club swim team marks 50 years
August 8, 2011
Rebound is normally a term associated with the sport of basketball.
Now, rebounding can be linked with the Fort Myer swim team (FMST).
Ten United States presidents ago, the Fort Myer swim team was formed, and since 1961, the team’s success - and near demise - has paralleled key moments in American history, including the civil rights movement and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
What has withstood and developed from the team is what builds solid organizations. Overcoming adversary, the passing of the baton of tradition from alumni parents to their children, a sense of belonging and the building of relationships has made FMST a deep-rooted Family and not even the 9-11 terrorist attacks have destroyed those roots.
The swim team celebrated its accomplishments at a July 27 get together, aptly named the FMST “banquid.” The function helped those reflect on team friendships and on a 2011 Colonial Swimming League white division championship.
FMST is the only remaining original member of the Colonial Swimming League - a developmental league which was formed to allow all the opportunity to swim on a racially-level playing field.
“In 1961 to 1962, we founded the league because we didn’t want segregation,” said swim team alumnus John Fry. “Fort Myer has a long history of being progressive in that way.”
Along with the progression, there was an abundance of success. In the mid-1980s, the team took on the squid nickname and records were broken by the likes of the Fry brothers -- Patrick and John. Jane Dorset, a FMST parent since 2000, remembers the first years of involvement when the youth swimming lists easily numbered over 100.
“The team was at the top of the division; they always won, but after 9-11, everything changed,” Dorset said.
Increased base security after the attacks and crashes at the nearby Pentagon building, New York City and rural western Pennsylvania made operating a swim team close to impossible. Roster defections cut into the Squid numbers enough so, discussions took place to disband the team.
“The year after 9-11, understandably, the base had to tighten security,” said parent and swim team Vice President Jan Olmstead. “That made it more difficult to access the post. Many people didn’t want to deal with [the security checks]. The years following 9-11, the numbers dropped and kept going down and down and down. I think we reached an all-time low of 60 swimmers. We were at a point where we couldn’t host any home meets. I don’t fault Fort Myer at all. That was just the sign of the times. It got to a point where some thought: should we continue?
“There were a handful of us who stuck it out,” Olmstead said with a smile before the annual banquet.
The decade of determination has even captured the attention of the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Carl R. Coffman who is one of the team’s biggest supporters.
“The team almost disbanded; it almost went away,” said Coffman, who is also a parent of a FMST swimmer. “A few core people and a core group who understood the value of the Fort Myer Squids were persistent. They held fast to that tradition and wouldn’t let it go and brought it back. Our current board and our coaches in the last six years after 9-11 have revitalized the swim team. They’ve moved up in competitive divisions, and as they move up every two years, they’ve dominated. As Type A military folks, we like to dominate.”
What currently dominates on the Officers Club pool deck is a well-tied bond between both young and old swimmers that has been fostered throughout the generations of swimmers.
“Summer swimming is one of the only sports where you have kids in multiple ages,” said John Fry. “For us, you have kids from ages 5 to 18. When I was a young kid [on the team], you always had big brothers that would help us out. There was a meet early on when I was 7 or 8 at the time. They put me in a box and carried me around the deck, and I was the secret weapon. I got to pop out of the box. It was a great thing for me to do.”
Jane Dorset describes her daughter Katie’s relationship with the FMST as special.
“My daughter loves this team; she wouldn’t swim anywhere else,” said Dorset. “For my daughter, this was her life, and I have no complaints; I’ve loved it. This team is a Family; for my daughter, the girls were her sisters.”
Dorset is not the only swim team parent who describes the entire group as a Family. Coffman is also aware of the closeness of the team Family and what they do to positively represent the installation.
“The swim team means a lot to the military Family because it helps us, and it is a tool that enables us to help transitioning Families as they come into the Arlington area,” Coffman said of the social aspect of the team.
“The kids can come to the swim team in the summer, and what that does is it fosters relationships. When they start school, they already have 20 or 30 ready-made friends. That’s a great help to us.
“The volunteers, the board, the coaches on the Fort Myer Swim Team - they carry our name, and I have a vested interest that they are good representatives of us in the community,” the commander added. “They do a great job at that. It is a very professionally-run organization, and it is very well-coached.”