Sharks cause a sensation in any environment. Just watch TV’s SyFy Channel and you’ll see movie adaptions like Dinoshark and Sharkopus that push the public’s obsessive fear of sharks to the extreme for entertainment purposes. If you want to see some real “Sharks” in action, however, visit the Statesboro Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department’s popular water park, Splash in the Boro any Tuesday or Thursday afternoon and watch the Statesboro Sharks Swim Team glide through the water.
A long standing swimming competition program within the “Rec Department,” until 2012, the Statesboro Sharks focused on competition swimming and traveled to meets that often required two to three day travel arrangements and overnight accommodations. After 2012, when Head Coach Erin Hight was promoted in her day job at Optim Orthopedics and had to leave her post as swim coach, the Sharks focus changed somewhat to accommodate the requests from some participants and parents for a more localized swimming skills improvement program.
Aquatics Program Supervisor Jenna Campbell shared, “We were dealing with 35 swimmers and about half wanted more competition, while the other half preferred less. We looked for a solution that would work best for everyone involved.”
The Sharks competition team members who wanted more meets joined with Chatham County swimmers that were already a part of the Statesboro team to form a more advanced travel team now based at the Chatham County Aquatics Center.
“That really gave our swimmers the best of both worlds,” said Steve Brown, Aquatics Division Manager. “We are now able to provide a training line-up that is a feeder program for the more advanced team.”
That program is set-up to develop the skills of swimmers, from beginner to advanced stages. The program is designed to address three areas: stroke refinement, stamina, and endurance. The object is always to cut time so individual swimmers can grow into real competitors. The swimmers practice their skills year round, twice a week at Splash in the Boro.
Swimmers who participate in the program must meet benchmarks of improvement to move up a level. Three different levels of instruction are available: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Within each level are skill assessments the swimmers must pass to proceed. If a swimmer is unable to reach a benchmark, coaches work with them to improve their performance, and private lessons are available for those who want to engage a personal trainer.
“The goal is for swimmers to progress at their own pace,” Brown stated. “You must be at least six-years-old to tryout, and you have to complete stroke school before-hand.”
There are two stroke schools for the Sharks. One school focuses on the breast stroke and the butterfly, while the second school focuses on the free style and back strokes.
One can begin the swim program at any skill level. “We take swimmers from six months to adults into our aquatics program,” stated Brown. “Up to three years, a parent must be in the pool with the child. After that age, anyone can enter the program and we will work with them according to their skill set.”
There is also a Starfish Aquatics Program combined with the skills and endurance training that focuses on water safety, introducing swimmers to the proper use of life jackets, CPR training, and 911 emergency calls. “This training increases with each level, too,” Brown added.
Instructor and Shark’s Head Coach Brad Savage, a competitive swimmer for Georgia Southern, has been with the program for one year. He oversees both the Junior and Senior levels of competitive swimmers. Those swimming with the Sharks require four days a week of instruction to get prepared for regional and state meets sanctioned by the Georgia Recreation & Parks Association (GRPA). Statesboro hosts the regional GRPA competition every other year. This year the District 1 swim meet will be held in Vidalia in the latter part of June. The state competition occurs in Tifton in mid-July.
Try-outs are held regularly for students who want to join the Sharks. If a swimmer doesn’t make the team, he or she is offered lessons to advance in areas that need improvement. The Junior and Senior swimmers meet twice a week for lessons from one to one and a half hours. Some of the benefits of being a Shark include getting to swim laps anytime at Splash for no extra charge. You can also have access to coaching two days a week, and can work on your own anytime.
To try-out for the Junior level, a swimmer must be able to swim 50 yards freestyle, and 25 yards of the backstroke, the butterfly, and the breast stroke. The Senior level swimmer must complete 200 yards freestyle, and 50 yards each of the other three strokes. Juniors and Seniors all train at the same time to increase competitiveness and time challenges. Currently there are 17 Juniors and 6 Seniors in the Sharks program.
A parents group helps the Sharks raise funds to purchase items for the team such as t-shirts and matching swim caps. “We don’t have uniforms or matching swimsuits, but when it comes to skills, we can compete with the best of them,” Brown stated.
There is no specific age requirement beyond the six-year-old limit on joining the Sharks, or on reaching Junior and Senior levels. “We have two girls that are 8 and 9-years-old that have been with our program a long time,” Brown said. “They’re very advanced for their age. I can see where they could be Olympic swimmers one day.”