By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerJune 22, 2009
FORT POLK, La. -- If you think just floating in a pool during the sizzling days of summer is boring, you're not alone. Fort Polk's Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Child, Youth and School Services, along with volunteer swim coaches, have created a Fort Polk competitive swim team. That's right kids, it's time to get out and raise the temperature a little more with some blazing fast speeds in the pool.
Of course it's not all about winning races, it's also about learning new skills and having fun.
"When MWR announced they were going to host a swim team, I decided I'd sign up to coach, but at that first meeting there were only two of us. So I went to some of the folks in my unit and said, 'Hey, we need some swim coaches.' That's why there are so many coaches from 83rd Chem Bn," said Maj. Adam Hilburgh, executive officer 83rd Chemical Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (rear), and volunteer swim coach for FMWR's swim team.
The swim team can use some more help. "We're trying to get more coaches -- people who have swum competitively. We would love for them to come out. A couple of the coaches we have are leaving within the next month," said Hilburgh.
Volunteering to coach can be a positive experience. "I did competitive swimming for several years. When I heard they were starting a swim team I said, 'why not'' The kids are fun to work with and the parents are supportive -- which is always good. Their minds retain any information you give them and their willingness to learn is great," said Ethan Pearl, 814th Engineer Company, volunteer swim coach for the Dolphins.
The team seems to be off to a good start with about 46 kids in the program. "Our swim team is called the Fort Polk Dragons, but the team is divided into four subgroups: dolphins, sting rays, barracudas and mantas.
We ended up splitting them into these groups by skill level based on how many strokes they can do and how far can they swim," said Hilburgh. He said the kids are learning to stretch, use rhythmic breathing, perfect stroke refinement, turn at the wall and dive in the pool.
Each coach concentrates on teaching different skills. "My team is working on stroke refinement and getting their dives correct. I love working with the kids. They learn so fast and adapt to everything you say," said Joleen Joles, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, volunteer swim coach for the barracudas.
The coaches take their swimmers' natural talents and nudge them in the right direction. "Some of these kids are great swimmers -- playing around and throwing the ball -- but it's significantly different when they are competing. A lot of these coaches have great experiences they can teach the kids. Sometimes it's as simple as changing how their hand goes in the water that can cut down on time," said Hilburgh.
Volunteer swim coach, Greg Suguitan, 83rd Chem Bn, agrees. "A lot of the kids in my group, the mantas, have already had swimming lessons, so it's more about tightening up their technique," he said. Suguitan is from Hawaii and loves anything to do with water.
The coaches know that swimming in their first meet is going to be hard when they are competing against clubs that have been training longer. "This will be a learning experience. Hopefully, six months to a year from now we'll have a strong team that's competitive," said Hilburgh. He looks at their first meet as a chance for parents, coaches and kids to absorb all they can. "For most of these kids, this is the first time they are going to swim in a competitive setting and I think we're going to learn a lot," said Hilburgh. The Dragon's first meet is in Alexandria June 20-21.
Parents are happy to see the program take off. "We participated two years ago and really liked it, but the team didn't make it last year. So we are really excited to see that it has taken off a lot better this year. It seems organized and we are actually going to get to travel to meets," said Erica Turner, swim team parent.
The children share a love of swimming, though each child seems to enjoy a different aspect of being on the team. "My favorite thing about coming to practice is learning all the different strokes. I thought I knew some of them , but it turns out the coaches taught me how to do them better," said Andrea Mann, 10.
Younger competitors like to have fun but are still focused on learning new skills. "I like swimming, it's cool. My favorite thing is doing the backstroke because it's my favorite stroke," said Anna Hilburgh, 7.
Keeping their pint-sized team members on track means coaches have to provide equal measures of work and fun.
"I like working with the little kids because you watch them identify a stroke and start help them refine it once they get the locomotion of it. I think most of the time, with he younger age group, it's more important that they like the feel of the water and have fun," said Heather Morgan, 7th Chemical Company, 83rd Chem Bn. Morgan is the volunteer swim coach for the sting rays. Morgan said she grew up in the pool and ocean and loves it.
Love of the competitive edge is far from the only reason to be on the team. "This sounded like fun. I'm competitive so I'm looking forward to the meets, but I also like meeting lots of new people," said Michael Walker, 10,
Learning new skills can be a challenge, but that's nothing these kids can't handle. "Since I started with the team, the butterfly is the stroke I've had to work on the most. I'm also practicing the turn at the wall. At first, it's difficult, but once coach tells you what you're doing wrong, you fix it. You are really happy when you can do it and not hit the wall with your forehead," said Alisia Walker, 12.
Kids like the hands-on teaching approach. "I've learned a lot since I got here. I like having fun with the coaches. If we have trouble they just hop in the pool and help us," said Zoe Woebkenberg.
Fort Polk's competitive swim program is open year round. Kids can sign up anytime. The team trains at the South Fort 25-meter pool and when the bubble goes up this winter, will have designated training time at South Fort's 50-meter pool. Participants must be between 5 and 18 years old. Register at bldg 400, Radio Rd. For more information call 531-6004.
Editor's Note: Volunteer swim coaches also include Claire Dermer, 83rd Chem Bn and Stephanie Kauzlarich.