By Brandon BieltzJuly 21, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - For the first time since 2009, the Fort Meade Dolphins youth swim team put a tally in the win column.
After falling short in all four league meets last season and three this season, the outnumbered Dolphins finally pulled off a 255-226 victory against the Westminster Stringrays on Saturday afternoon in Westmister.
"It feels good we actually won," said swimmer Dominic Salacki. "We're all excited we won the meet."
The victory comes as the Dolphins rebuild a dwindling swim team that now sports a roster of a little more than 40 athletes as they compete against teams with full squads of 100 to 150 swimmers. In past years, the team has held numbers similar to their opponents. In 2000 and 2005 the Dolphins were undefeated.
The team's past success elevated the Dolphins to Division III in the Central Maryland Swim League before the start of the 2006 season. However, in 2009 the team returned to Division IV as it struggled to produce winning records.
Veteran team member Ryan Barry, 17, said the small number of swimmers on the team makes it hard for the Dolphins to win meets. Swim teams accumulate points during each event. Since most teams have more swimmers, they naturally accumulate more points throughout the meet, putting the Dolphins in a hole.
Ryan added that most teams have more swimmers in the 8-year-old and under category than the Dolphins have across the board.
"You can't really help it," Ryan said.
Despite the recent challenges the team has faced, the coaches and athletes continue to focus on swimming hard and putting forth a strong effort.
"We're a small team, but our kids are all doing very well," said coach Marc Czaja.
Although Fort Meade struggles to win meets, there are members who continue to be competitive in their individual events. Coach Kathleen Barry said the team has many swimmers who win their events regularly.
"We have very talented swimmers that win, but we don't have enough," Barry said.
The coaching staff stresses swimming for competitive times and not for meet points. Personal bests are the swimmers' primary focus. Barry said if the athletes focus on producing better times, ultimately they will get faster and win.
"Every time you swim, swim for your personal best," Barry said. "Don't worry about what other kids are doing."
Coaches such as Barry and Czaja are able to instill this philosophy at an early age as a majority of the older swimmers began with the team when they were young.
Ryan, who started swimming with the Dolphins when he was 4, said the coaching staff takes the inexperienced swimmers and develops a squad of competitors.
"We can take kids and turn them into swimmers," he said.
Team members train five days a week. In the mornings, they practice at Gaffney Fitness Center. They hit the water again in the evenings at the Meuse Forest neighborhood center pool. Older swimmers are encouraged to attend both practices as swim time is the only way to improve, Barry said. The younger swimmers are only allowed to swim at one practice per day.
"[Practices] can get tough at some points," said swimmer Xavier Howard, 11, who is in his second year swimming with the Dolphins.
Although the team trains hard, team members said the program is still fun.
"I like that you get to get in the water when it's hot and see your friends," Xavier said.
As the coaches rebuild the team, they continue to focus on bringing in younger swimmers from swim classes at Gaffney and keeping them interested in swimming. Ryan and Barry said the team has more younger swimmers this year than in past seasons.
However, until the team rebuilds itself to the powerhouse it once was, swimmers and coaches view meets as preparation to division championships.
"The opportunity to compete -- that's what's most important," Barry said.