|Rockdale Riptides prepare for Athens swim meet|
|Friday, 01 March 2013 13:03 | Written by Joshua Smith|
When other students are watching Saturday morning cartoons, the Rockdale Riptides are swimming at 7 in the morning. When their peers are playing video games or worrying about after-school snacks, they’re in the pool, swimming about three miles a night. The Riptides basically live in the water.
“This sport takes a lot of dedication. From August to March, we are swimming. We practice officially two to three times a week, but many of our swimmers come to the pool everyday,” said Co-Head Coach Sean Willette. “This is how Michael Phelps started, lap for lap, working and grinding to get better every time you get in the water.”
The team recently sent nine swimmers to the 2013 Georgia 14-and-under Short Course Championships. USA Swimming and Georgia Swimming, the official governing bodies for swimmers and swim meets, hosted the state competition at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The nine swimmers gave it their all while competing against hundreds of swimmers at the Feb. 22 – 24 meet, most of the Riptide placed in the top 20, some placing as high as fourth. It’s a huge accomplishment just to make it to state, according to Wilette, but what may have been equally impressive is that first-year team member Shantell Hadley made the State team at all. Hadley, who is the daughter of Rockdale Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley, had been swimming for not even a year when she joined the team and began to flourish.
“Coach says it’s pretty impressive for Shantell to be invited to state because some swimmers will never have state times and she’s done it in her first year on the team. She’s a much better swimmer now and she’s found something she really enjoys,” said Shantell’s mother, Tarah Hadley. “To get this far in just one year shows how excellent the coaches are. They work with each child, strengthening their weaknesses and maximizing on their strengths. I started learning the different strokes with my daughter and now I know how to swim.”
Coach Willette, who competed as a professional skier in the 1980s, has been coaching the swim team since 1999. He says the teams’ swimmers success is driven by parent support.
“With sports and parents, you always think of soccer moms. But soccer moms don’t have anything on our parents, they’re the best,” said Willete. “We’re really like a family here. Tight knit would be the best way to describe it. Everybody is encouraging and supportive.”
Willette’s daughter, 12-year-old Delaney Willette, is “a beast” in her own right. She’s competed at State four times—once coming in second. She is currently training for the 2013 Eastern Section of the Southern Zone (ESSZ) 14 & Under Age Group Sectional Championship meet, March 7 – 10 in Greensboro, NC. The meet includes the best swimmers in eight states in the Southeast U.S.
“I’ll be swimming in 11 events, competing for four days,” said Delany Willette. It would be pretty cool if some of my teammates could come. I’m with them more than my own friends from school. It’s kind of like being brothers and sisters.”
One of her “brothers,” Corey Kidd, was also on the state team. The 9-year-old started swimming two years ago, and already competes against kids who are 10 and older at meets.
“I really like swimming. I look forward to the pool every time I get in,” said Kidd, who has improved his overall swimming times by 10.69 seconds. “The Saturday morning practices I don’t like, but I do like getting better so I do it.”
Swim meets are hosted in Georgia about two times a month, from October through March. Coaching staff says through the Riptides, they’ve noticed the sport gaining popularity in Rockdale among African Americans. It wasn’t always that way, but Willette says because of swimmers like Cullen Jones, that is changing.
“Five years ago you didn’t have this kind of diversity. Great swimmers like Cullen are bringing a new wave. To me, there’s nothing better than that,” said Willette. “I think it just trickled down before, older members in the family were scared of the water or didn’t know how to swim. Hopefully this generation can start a new tradition with African Americans and the water. If not for sport, for knowing how to swim for survival if need be.”
The Riptides next major meet will be on March 22 – 24 at the University of Georgia in Athens. Members will compete in what is known as the Northeast Divisionals. Riptiders range in age from 6 – 18 and come from Rockdale, Newton, DeKalb and Henry county. Swimmers on the nearly 90-member team are broken down into two categories, Level One for the more experienced and Level Two for beginners. The cost to join the team is $60/month for Level One and $50/month for Level Two swimmers; some of the lowest prices in the state for a swim team. Prices include fairly large lanes to swim in, a t-shirt, and “dedicated coaching,” according to Willette.
Coach Willette is joined in leading the young swimmers by fellow head coach Gregg Ellwanger and assistant coaches Lindsey Darr, Kenny Tucker and Lauren Schlumper. For more information, dive into the Riptides website at www.swimriptides.com or check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RockdaleCountyRiptides.