Swim team makes a splash

At Play

February 14, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

After a few visits to Annapolis's Truxtun Park pool in 2005, Jen Bistrack couldn't help thinking more children should be splashing around in there.

A coach at the Naval Academy Aquatics Club, she deduced that too few kids knew how to swim -- or knew what they were missing.

Bistrack, who does health promotions for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, sent a note to her boss, department director LeeAnn Plumer, asking her thoughts about starting a Truxtun Park swimming team.

"I grew up in public swimming programs, very vibrant community programs, so I contacted LeeAnn and asked if she'd be willing to get a team started," Bistrack said. "It was like preaching to the choir."

With the city's support, Bistrack launched the Truxtun Park Penguins in the summer of 2005 as an intramural, in-house swimming team for ages 5 to 18. It joined the Greater Annapolis Swim League last year and is growing so fast that coach Bistrack already is considering a limit of swimmers.

About 30 people attended an organizational meeting last week, a huge increase from a year ago, when six people showed up. Bistrack expects to have 80 to 100 children competing this summer.

"I don't think we should get much larger than 100," Bistrack said.

Bistrack, who swam at Augusta State University in Georgia and is now with the Navy Masters Swim Team, is often looking for children who have never been on a swim team before, who don't know of the opportunities later -- to swim year-round in a local league, join the county schools' new high school swim teams, or swim competitively in college.

She recruited 22 children by the end of 2005, and got approval last year to join the 18-team Greater Annapolis Swim League, making it the only team from a public pool. In their first year of competition in the league, the Penguins grew to 63 swimmers. The other squads in the league average about 85 swimmers.

Practices start in early June and take place five nights a week during the season. The Penguins work out in three age groups for 30 minutes to an hour, then compete in Saturday morning meets. Last year, they finished with a 1-5 record.

"It took us at least a month for everyone to learn the skills," Bistrack said. "As our team gets stronger, we'll get more and more competitive."

The others in the Swim League have noticed how quickly the Penguins have grown.

"It's remarkable and a testament to Jen Bistrack," said Allyson Reiter, the Greater Annapolis Swim League commissioner. "I was at one of their first few practices, and I then saw them compete at our championship meets at the end, and their progress was truly remarkable."

Catherine Gonzalez, who will have six of her 12 children on the team this year, said the program has impressed her. With four of her children competing last year, Gonzalez enjoyed watching how the Penguins grew into a family-oriented program. The other teams in the league come from private pools that require paid memberships.

"I think that, because it's a community swim team as opposed to a private neighborhood swim team, that it's extremely family-friendly and affordable," said Gonzalez. "That was extremely appealing to us."

The Penguins and Recreation and Parks also appealed to swimmers in various financial ways, such as providing the pool and some of the swim league dues and paying for children's swimsuits if needed.

Now Bistrack, 34, is looking for a second coach to help the burgeoning program this summer.

"At first, I was worried that it was going to be canceled," Bistrack said. "But it's proof that if you give something a little time and a little nurturing, it can really blossom."

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