Parks & Rec dives into splashy new team sport

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 Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Emma Sampson takes a big breath before plunging forward for another lap at swim team practice in London.

A new sports team is making waves in London.

This summer, the London Parks and Recreation Department put together a swim squad. A dozen boys and girls, ages 7 to 14, are participating in the first-time endeavor. They’re three-meet schedule included events in Baltimore on July 8, Canal Winchester on July 14, and Westchester near Cincinnati on July 21.

The team will hold an unsanctioned open meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 11 at the London Munici-pal Pool to promote the team for next summer.

“We started this be-cause people expressed interest in having a swim team. No other pools in the county have one,” said Ryan Ladd, London Parks and Recreation director.

“It’s been a success. Parents have been supportive and the kids have bought into the program. A couple of them even come outside of practice to do extra laps.”

Since mid-June, the group has met for practices on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at the London pool. Each child has a different degree of swimming experience and a different reason for participating.

“I’ve always really liked to swim and always wanted to get involved in a competitive sport that I love,” said London resident Emily Harper, 13, whose favorite stroke is freestyle.

“Being on the swim team, I’ve found out there are a lot of girls my age who are a lot better than me because they’ve been doing it for a long time. I know I’m not always going to win; I just try my hardest and go for my personal best.”

One of the youngest team members is one of the most experienced. Emma Sampson, 7, pulled double duty this summer, swimming for teams in London and Springfield.

“I live in London, so I’m glad we have a team that’s closer to my home now,” said Sampson, who won medals or trophies in the majority of events she entered this summer through the London squad. Her favorite stroke is the butterfly.

Jennifer Mocniak, mother of swim team member Taylor, 9, is glad to see her children have a chance to follow in her footsteps.

“I was on a swim team for eight or nine years starting at age 10 in Chillicothe,” Mocniak said. “I’m thrilled we have something for my kids to do that I did as a kid.”

The team’s coaches are just as enthused with the progress the start-up squad has made in its first year.

“It has been very rewarding for Morgan (Campbell) and I as coaches to see each of (the kids) improve dramatically since the first couple of weeks of practice. I hope the kids see their improvement and are as proud of themselves as we are of them,” said Coach Jennifer Long.

“Gaining respect for the sport of swimming, their teammates, and competitors are lessons they will be able to take with them when they eventually compete in junior high and high school athletics,” Campbell added.

Just like the coaches, Ladd has an eye on the future development of the team. He is submitting a proposal to the Tri-County Aquatic League to include the London team in its ranks starting in 2008. The league has 12 teams from Delaware, Franklin and Licking counties.

“There are no other leagues that we’ve researched that we can be competitive in and are in this general area,” Ladd said. “Inclusion in the league would mean some travel, but it seems like a good fit.”

League membership would provide the London team with an expanded schedule of five dual meets and five invitationals, including a conference championship.

“With the encouragement from coaches in the Tri-County Aquatic League, we have every reason to believe that our program can grow and improve to become a very competitive team in the near future,” Coach Long said.

Ladd’s goal for next year is a team of 20 swimmers.

To learn more about the London swim team, call the Parks and Recreation Department at 740-852-4462.

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