First swimming meet enough to whet appetite for more

SIDELINES

February 12, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

To say that the Parents for Swimming in Anne Arundel County were pleased with last Saturday's first public high school swimming championships is an understatement.

"Did you see how proud the kids were walking around afterward with their medals around their necks?" asked Don Ramsbottom, chairman of the group.

The volunteer organization turned in a marvelous effort at the Severna Park YMCA in its attempts to make swimming a part of the county high school athletic program.

The sport embellishes the spirit of competition and open doors for the highly skilled, and it also encourages a healthy form of recreation for a lifetime. An individual can be too old to play football or basketball, but not too old to swim and satisfy cardiovascular requirements.

If reaction from County Executive Bob Neall is an indication, we may see high school swimming become an integral part of the county's physical education program.

"This is great," said Neall, who stopped by the YMCA on Saturday. "I'm impressed with the turnout and all the parents giving their time."

More than 130 swimmers took part in the first county high school championships. Only the school communities of North County and Southern were not represented, and a few high school principals wanted no part of the meet.

Because the swimming championships are not sanctioned by the Board of Education, the principals were within their rights not to be interested or supportive.

However, I don't understand what harm would have been done to allow the parents' group to invite swimmers to participate through the school's daily announcements.

Severna Park coach Pat Scheier and many of the other parents and swimmers I met at the meet are craving deserved recognition.

"I just wish we had had something like this last year," said Eric Sloan, an Old Mill High graduate who is on a swimming scholarship at UMBC after swimming 12 years for the Severna Park YMCA.

Sloan is just one of a host of county swimmers who have received scholarships with little attention because it is not part of the high school athletic program.

"These kids deserve the recognition. They put in long hours," Scheier said.

On her team alone, Chris Lenahan (boys winner of 200-yard freestyle) has received interest from Villanova, UMBC and the Air Force Academy; Adam Turney (second in 200 free and 500 free) from West Virginia and Clarion State, Pa.; and Tracey Wells, Loyola and La Salle.

Chris Bembenek of South River High, the only boys double-winner (100 butterfly and 100 backstroke), has been offered a scholarship to East Carolina. Bembenek swims for the Navy Juniors and has drawn attention from more than 50 colleges.

"Some people don't realize how many scholarship opportunities are out there for swimming," said Chris' mom, Sally.

"Seton Hall, for instance, doesn't have football, so that gives them more scholarships for swimming, and there are a lot of schools like that."

Doug Sutherland, an official of the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association, attended Saturday's meet and was impressed.

Sutherland started what is a very successful high school program in Prince George's County almost 15 years ago, and four of his own children have earned scholarships. His daughter, Gail, is a team captain at Towson State University.

"There are a lot of opportunities in swimming, but it's also a fun sport in which all the kids can participate," Sutherland said.

The argument against it in Anne Arundel County is that there are no school pools and no money for coaches and other related expenses.

"We don't have school pools in Prince George's," Sutherland said. "We rely on rec and parks and Bowie State College."

In Anne Arundel, there's Anne Arundel Community College, Navy and a pool across the street from Annapolis High (controlled by Rec and Parks) that was designed for competitive swimming, not to mention YMCAs and other indoor community pools.

A program could be started with volunteer coaches (these parents and youth coaches would jump at the opportunity). They are used in other sports, some official, some not.

It would seem to me that the physical education department under efficient Rick Wiles could regulate the activity well enough to be acceptable without much expense, if any. Certainly he would get more parental help than he needs.

You only had to see Saturday's meet to see how well organized the Parents for Swimming are and to realize the county already has a volunteer infrastructure to make it work.

High school swimming in the waterway county of Anne Arundel is long overdue, and if neighbor Prince George's can do it, why can't Anne Arundel?

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