Starting in May, girls and boys ages 6 to 18 began developing their swimming strokes, connecting with friends and improving individual speeds in the water as members of the city's recreational swim squad.
Head coach Denise Gonzales worked with more than 100 swimmers over the 10 weeks that the team was together in May through early-August. The city-run program conducted three meets before wrapping up the campaign with the season-ending competition at Patterson Aquatic Center on Friday, Aug. 2.
"I think that we all have a passion for something, and mine is swimming and teaching swimming," Gonzales said. "I'm fortunate enough to be able to coach the Pirates, share my passion, and have the support from the parents and the community to continue."
The team is strictly recreational and emphasizes equal opportunity for participation. No meet scores or league standings are recorded.
Gonzales, who has coached swimming for more than a decade, can attest to the difference between a purely recreational program and a competitive one. It’s the difference, she said, between maintenance and improvement: It is one thing to get in the pool and train during the summer, but quite another to be driven to achieve one’s best every day.
"This is a city-run program, and its sole emphasis is recreation," Gonzales said. "We encourage all the swimmers to come as often as possible because this is a progressive program, and we are continually teaching proper strokes, turns, starts and finishes."
Swimmers practice four times a week from May to August, and they attend swim meets weekly in the month of July. Some athletes compete at swim meets against area schools during the school year, but in the summer, the team faces off against another recreational club from Riverbank.
"The more practices they attend, the more they learn," Gonzales said. "We hope that each swimmer will end the season having learned something new about the sport, whether it's technique, self-awareness, health or nutrition."
At the end of her fourth season at the controls for Patterson, Gonzales said the Pirates swim team is an important part of the city’s sports scene. The squad is the only Patterson-based team for swimmers younger than high school age, she added.
"A common goal for the kids would be to learn the sport, develop better discipline and responsibility for oneself, and ultimately improve swim times on a weekly basis," Gonzales said.
This summer, Patterson swimmers learned various techniques, such as the butterfly stroke and breaststroke, as well as practicing better ways to breathe in the pool and streamline the body.
Athletes earning recognition for their success in the water included: Gabriel Abellana, Jaden Arredondo, Juliana Colindres, Daniel Estrada, Mahalla Fagan, Britney Garcia, Rylee Garcia, Aaron Gonzales, Julia Hoxie, Marisa Jack, Nadia Kolding, Ali Munoz, Malik Nelson, Myron Ng, Branden Ou, James Perez, Lailani Stephenson, Keanu Stephenson, Taj Stephenson, Shana Vaid, Christian Vasquez and Emma Villafana.
"Unfortunately, time and summer vacation sometimes muck up the progressions the kids make in the pool," Gonzales said. "But as long as the kids are still learning, enjoying themselves and staying safe in the water, it's all good."
Gonzales said summer swimming is instrumental in getting youngsters into the pool in the first place — not always easy, given the popularity of other sports. Swim team activities provide basic instruction in technique and give individuals their first taste of competition.
"Swimming benefits your whole body as well being beneficial in the performance of other sports," Gonzales said. "Swimming is a great activity for those young athletes who are continually on a daily grind of running, jumping and kicking on hard surfaces. Being in the water absorbs that impact and gives the bones a break from the constant jarring."
Working with her right-hand woman Jeune Shelton, an assistant coach, Gonzales said the mission of the Pirates is to promote a fun yet challenging environment to teach children the basics of swimming.
The veteran coach also gave kudos to the team’s parents and volunteers.
"This year, we were exceptionally fortunate in that we had some amazing helpers step up," Gonzales said. "The last meet in particular, we had enough volunteers to run the entire meet without needing any volunteers from the other team. It was probably the smoothest run meet we've had in a very long time."
As Gonzales teaches her swimmers strokes and proper breathing methods, she also hopes they develop confidence and a lifelong love of swimming.
"To have a program that keeps 109 kids busy for at least one hour a day, and that it's a healthy, social and safe activity run in a supervised facility, is huge," Gonzales said. "And besides, who wouldn't want to swim in a town that gets upwards of 100-degrees during the summer?
"Seems to be a win-win choice."
n Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or firstname.lastname@example.org.