The kids start with a splash

Columbia Neighborhood Swim League gets another busy season under way


The Phelps Luck pool resembled a state of controlled chaos.

Parents and volunteers scurried around the 25-yard pool to help instruct, score and do administrative tasks. Several manned the concession stand, and others helped inform the children when their races would take place. Some just played the role of nervous parents.

But the children, well, they were having a blast.

"The kids just have a great time," said Columbia resident Mary Nakagama, whose son, Matthew, is a member of the Phelps Luck Snappers.

And so it was Saturday on a glorious morning that the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League (CNSL) began another season.

The 14-team league, with competitors ranging from ages 4 to 18, has a five-meet dual season that ends July 22. Throughout the summer, swimmers can qualify - based on times - for the All-City Championship on July 29.

Teams are built around a neighborhood, but some are combinations of two or more. For example, the Phelps Luck team pulls kids from Ilchester Elementary School and half of the Phelps Luck Elementary School district.

The other half of the Phelps Luck district goes to the Long Reach team, which also gets swimmers from three other elementary schools. League officials want equity and good competition, and that is what happened Saturday at Phelps Luck as the Wilde Lake Watercats pulled out a 295-293 victory.

"It's really a great community thing," said Zulma Whiteford, who serves as the unofficial league historian. "It's huge around here. This is so much fun and very unique."

The Watercats came prepared, as evidenced by the markings on their cars and vans that had formed the swimming caravan to Phelps Luck Drive. "We will swim you away," warned a message on one vehicle.

Another got a little more personal: "We are the Watercats, we live in a hut, if you don't believe us, just watch us shake our butts!"

For Kristi Brennan, this was just another Saturday morning meet. Neither of her kids competed on this day, but Brennan, now in her 12th year as a judge, came anyway. She sat in a chair by the side of the pool and called out the order in which the swimmers finished.

It wasn't hard to see she was enjoying herself.

"None of my kids are here today, and it's my free Saturday, but here I am," she said with a laugh.

Parents and volunteers showed up as early as 6 a.m. to begin making food. One parent brought a grill to help cook the season's first new dish - a fried egg sandwich. All kinds of food and drinks were available - especially sweet things. Money earned at the concession stands goes toward supporting the swim program.

Chris Butters was one of the parents who worked the concession stand. Her daughter, Allyson Sloan, made her swimming-meet debut Saturday, and mother felt nearly as nervous as child, wanting to do her new job correctly.

"I volunteered to work the concessions the first day to get my feet wet," she said with a laugh. "I was nervous coming in."

Allyson swam in three races and enjoyed herself. The large smile she wore after swimming her third and final event of the morning said it all.

"It's really fun," the 8-year-old said.

Matthew Nakagama is 12 and one of the league's better swimmers. He won the 50-yard breaststroke and 100-yard individual medley in the 11-12 division for Phelps Luck. In addition, he swam on the victorious 50-yard medley relay team.

Matthew swims with the Columbus Clippers year-round, and he was buzzing around the pool talking with a number of people in between winning races.

"It gets me excited," he said about the start of the season. "I like it. It's a [way] to get into the pool and you can talk to your friends."

At meet's end, both teams got together about 15 to 20 feet apart and did rhyming cheers for the other. Then, when the scores were announced, victorious Wilde Lake coaches were playfully pushed into the pool - a league tradition.

"It becomes a big family community event," said Mary Nakagama. "Everyone has a lot of fun."

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