Niagara-on-the-Lake youngsters had their first experience as a team in the Memorial Park Pool Saturday, competing against swimmers from Pelham and Dunnville.
“The opportunity to swim is great for the kids,” says Rebecca Saylor, the town’s aquatics director, who, with her sister Rachel, was managing the scores of the meet, and organizing ribbons for the winners.
“This is the first meet in three years, and for most of them it’s their first swim meet.”
Rachel and Rebecca grew up learning to swim at Memorial Pool, then teaching others to swim, competing on the swim team and then helping to organize meets for the last 15 years.
Their grandmother was Vi Mills, whose legacy was teaching hundreds of children to swim, and to love the sport. When she died in 2020, Rachel spoke of “the extraordinary ripple effect” Vi’s life had in the community, evidenced in the local swim team that continues today, with Rebecca and Rachel still involved. “We have to attribute this to our grandmother,” says Rachel.
The sisters agree that while they might not have had any choice, they loved their involvement in the sport growing up, both the swimming and the social aspect, which is still an important component of the sport today.
While some may go on to compete all year round, the summer swim teams and meets “give the kids an opportunity to compete in a relaxed, fun environment,” says Rebecca.
“It’s great to see the kids cheering on their team, clapping and shouting from the side of the pool for the other swimmers.”
Also behind the success of the team are the coaches and the parents who help out.
The team had two staff members coaching, and several parent volunteers timing, helping to marshal the swimmers, and looking after the kids between swims.
“We weren’t even going to have a swim team this summer,” says parent volunteer Adriana Vizzari, who explained the email that went out to parents said there would be no meets, just practices. But then, between the staff and volunteers, the town decided it could work, and agreed to four meets plus the final regional competition at the end of the season at the Lincoln pool.
Typically the regional meeting is indoors at Brock University, but between a lack of staff and the Canada Summer Games overlapping, Brock couldn’t do it this year, explains Vizzari.
There are about 40 members of the NOTL Eels, with kids from both the Memorial and St. Davids pools dividing their four-day-a-week practices between the two pools.
About 25 of them took part in the meet, says Vizzari — some swimmers may have signed up for other sports, not knowing there would be competitions on Saturday.
Although it’s an introduction to competition, says Vizzari, it’s not very competitive at this level — it really is just intended to be fun, and for about 75 per cent of them, it was their first experience taking part in the swim meet as a team.
“People don’t think of swimming as a team sport, but that’s the best part of it. The kids were so excited for the other swimmers, encouraging them other swimmers, and cheering them along,” she says. “And they were so proud of themselves. Some of them were just grateful they were able to make it to the end of their races.”
The Eels came in first place as a team, she says, and did well in their individual races, “but most important was they had a good time.”
Several parents said their kids had never had an opportunity to compete in any sport — they were new to the concept of racing. “That’s the reality after two years of a pandemic,” Vizzari says.
What the kids enjoy most of all is the socializing, and although they enjoyed the races, she added, “the swim meets are not super competitive, they’re not intimidating, and they are very inclusive.”
NOTL swimmers cheer on their team.