Community effort helps make YMCA Seahawks Invitational a success
By BRETT MARSHALL
More than 300 swimmers from three states converged on The Big Pool on Saturday to compete in the Garden City Family YMCA Seahawks Invitational.
In many ways, you could call this event a family affair.
Moms and dads were volunteering in a variety of roles — public address announcing, helping line up the swimmers in their lanes as they awaited their races, timers, pickers, concession stand attendants.
The annual event not only brings in the large number of contestants, but brings in family members from as far away as Dumas, Texas, as well as Guymon, Okla., and several southwest Kansas communities.
For Monica Colborn, Aquatics Director at the YMCA, it was an opportunity to run her first Seahawks Invitational after having competed years earlier while growing up in Holcomb.
For Leah Molek, an Akron, Ohio, native, it was her first time to see competitive swimming at The Big Pool as the new coach of the Seahawks swim team. An Eastern Michigan University graduate and a teacher at Abe Hubert Elementary, Molek herself competed as a youth and through her high school years.
Then, you could also find Garden City City Manager Matt Allen timing, local chiropractor Dr. Jeff Baier helping pick the finishers as they touched the wall of the 50-meter race layout.
"I told Casey (Garden City swim coach Wise) that if he ever needed help, to let me know," Molek said. "Then I heard the YMCA needed a head coach and I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to take the position."
Molek said her initial Seahawk swim team is comprised of approximately 30 kids, ranging in ages from 7 to 16.
"We practice five days a week in the morning," Molek said of the team's summer schedule. "The 7 to 10 year olds go early and the older kids later. It all depends on their skill level, more so than their age."
The team has had earlier summer meets in Lakin, Liberal, Scott City, Dodge City and Leoti, and Ulysses will host the upcoming Western Kansas Swim Club championships on Saturday. Contestants who place there with qualifying time standards can then move on to the Division II meet in Hutchinson on July 21. From there, qualifiers again based upon times, would advance to the Division I meet on July 26 in Lenexa, a Kansas City area suburb.
"We have a lot of different goals for the kids, just based on where they are," Molek said. "We try to make the team affordable by having everything free. We don't charge the kids for entry fees into the meets in which they compete. When I swam in Ohio (USA Swimming), we had to pay to compete in all the meets and entry into each event."
Molek said scholarships are available to youth who may otherwise not be able to afford to join the team.
"Swimming really builds character, I believe," Molek said. "You get into a cold pool and then you like the feel of it. Physically, it works every muscle of your body."
Some of goals after the first season as the head coach include fundraising to buy new equipment for the team, such as flags and blocks for practice and meets.
"We want to provide an opportunity for the young kids to compete so if they want to swim at the high school level, they will be ready for that kind of competition," Molek said.
For Colborn, her duties as the aquatics director just started in May, so she was having the normal anxiety of making sure everything ran like clockwork at the meet.
"We had 30 or so volunteers and this is a very big meet, so without those volunteers, this wouldn't be possible," Colborn said. "There's a lot of planning that starts even before the summer season begins. You just have to rely on your volunteers so this can run smoothly."
The temperature on Saturday slowly climbed from the high 70s of the morning start to the mid 90s by the end of the meet, thus creating the need to make sure not only competitors, but volunteers, too, stayed hydrated.
"We always try to have water available for them at their beck and call," Colborn said. "Having the volunteers, many of whom either have swam themselves or have children swimming now, adds a personal touch to the meet."
Colborn also was grateful to many of the meet sponsors — McDonald's, Sonic, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Wendy's — for providing gift certificates to those swimmers who won events. Schoepner's donated bottled water and Garden City Community College contributed ice coolers that were located all around The Big Pool area. Garnand Funeral home donated several tents to help volunteers and competitors stay out of the hot sun.
"We also had a lot of parents who donated food items," Colborn said.
A self-confessed "pool rat," Colborn said she was happy to be able to participate in an event that had been a great experience for her as a youth.
"I remember swimming here when I was little and it was so much fun," Colborn said. "You see the smiling faces of the kids when they compete, it makes it all worthwhile."
For many of the Seahawks swim team, it was truly a family day as siblings comprised nearly one-third of the team's entries. There were the Jones sisters — Lauren, 10, and Paige, 7; the Richmeiers — Laura, 15, and Lindsey, 12; the Schmidts — Claire, 15, and Grace, 12; the Halls — Peter 11, and Carrie, 14; the Baiers — Macy, 7, and Trevor, 11; and the Stephens — Jonah, 9, Josiah, 10, and Isaac, 12.
Final team scores were: Guymon Swim Club, 610.5; Dumas/Moore County (Texas) Marlins, 443.5; Garden City YMCA Seahawks, 247; Ulysses Swim Squad, 245; Dodge City Swim team, 218; Lakin Dolphins, 146.5; Liberal/Southwest Aquatics, 137.5.
Individually for the Seahawks, Grace and Claire Schmidt each claimed three victories. Grace in the 11 to 12 year-old division won the 200-meter individual medley, the 50 freestyle and 50 backstroke, while Claire won in the 15 and older division the 100 backstroke, 200 individual medley and 400 freestyle. Emma Tull won the 50-meter breaststroke in the 11 to 12 year-old division while Juliana Calzonetti claimed the 100 freestyle in the girls 9 and under division.
For more information on the Seahawks swim team, contact Leah Molek at (330) 858-2853 or email her at email@example.com. For more information on aquatics programs at the Garden City Family YMCA, contact Monica Colborn at 275-1199.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.