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'Splash' Sharks swim to state
Four 8-and-under swimmers, Hannah Kimble, Bailey Hodges, Mary-Gen Williams and Anslee Woods, of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Sharks, pose for a photo after a June 22 meet at Splash in the Boro - photo by Special to the Herald

    The last week has seen millions tune in to watch American swimmers shatter world records and dominate the competition at the Olympic Games. Over at Splash in the Boro, there might not be gold medals on the line, but there are plenty of young swimmers with Olympic-sized aspirations.
    The Statesboro-Bulloch County Sharks swim team turned heads July 20-21 at the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association Class “B/C” state meet held in Tifton. In all, 37 Sharks qualified to compete in the meet and 23 advanced to the finals as one of the top eight competitors in the state in their event.
    “We are very proud of all of our swimmers,” Sharks coach Erin Hight said. “It was great to see so many of us succeed against such tough competition.”
    Leading the way for the club was 12-year old Lydia Scharss, who qualified for the state finals in both the 50-yard freestyle and 50-yard backstroke.
    Even the youngest Sharks pitched in as Hannah Kimble, Bailey Hodges, Mary-Gen Williams and Anslee Woods — all eight years old — took part in state finals.
    Judd Scharss, 13, stood out for the Sharks’ boys contingent, performing well in the 50-yard breaststroke and the 100-yard individual medley.
    Once a small squad with limited success, the Sharks have grown into quite the force. They have called Splash in the Boro home for the last eight years after previously practicing at the old pool in Hanner Fieldhouse on Georgia Southern’s campus.
    Hight, who swam for the GSU club team before catching on with the Sharks, has grown alongside the program.
    “I first got involved as a lifeguard at Splash while I was a student at GSU,” Hight said. “I started to assist as a coach while working at Splash and eventually worked my way into a head coaching position. It’s been a lot of fun and a great learning experience to watch our kids progress.”
    Catering to children as young as seven, all the way up to 18-year olds, there is a challenge for Hight — who is also assisted by Hallie Hene, Andie Salas, Kymberly Dorsey and Jasmine Poolson — to get all of the Sharks the proper coaching.
    “Swimming is very much an individual sport and something that coaches and swimmers have to work on in a one-on-one setting,” Hight said.
    To get the Sharks’ 45-plus membership the proper training, swimmers are broken down by age group and ability.
    “With our older swimmers, there is a lot of competition,” Hight said. “So much of this sport is just practicing hard and constantly aiming for a time to beat. At the younger levels, it’s all about building up their love of the sport and teaching fundamentals. Eight year olds can have a little shorter attention span, but they really love the sport and can be the most fun to work with.”
    Many of the youngest Sharks that Hight encountered when she first joined the team are now big contributors to the club’s current success. She attributes the dedication of young swimmers and their willingness to stick with the sport and improve through the years as the biggest factor in becoming successful in even the most competitive meets.
    Still, there needs to be a new class of youngsters each year and the Sharks will help to train anyone with a desire to compete.
    “Our only requirements for new members are the ability to swim a 25-yard freestyle and a 25-yard backstroke,” Hight said. “After that, it’s all about training. This team is full of guys and girls that are willing to put in a lot of effort at each practice. But they also support each other. I think that sort of atmosphere allows our swimmers to grow and progress.”
    The Sharks compete in GRPA events throughout the summer and also participate in USA swim meets on a year-round basis.
    Following last month’s GRPA state meet, the Sharks have a break in their schedule during August, but will pick up again in September.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.