Sunday, July 14, 2024

SEALS set to make another summer splash

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In 1990 Janet Steenberge reluctantly began a small swim team at the DeCordova pool, not because she didn’t love the sport, but because she thought someone else could do a better job.

She was wrong.

Today, the Granbury SEALS Swim Team is one of the more renowned throughout Texas as it prepares to begin a new season of competition in the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation (TAAF).

“There was a family in town aligned with USA Swimming who lived in DeCordova. Marsha McMahon — the mom — asked me several times if I would like to coach a swim team out of DeCordova, which I declined as I did not think I was qualified,” Steenberge said. “She and the then club manager talked me into starting and coaching a swim team.”

 

THE EARLY DAYS

That first season the SEALS had 24 swimmers and competed with other country clubs in the area. Soon, they had people from outside of DeCordova inquiring about how they could swim on the team, so they started a “branch” of the team.

“So the team was split into two parts, with some of the swimmers only seeing the other swimmers at the meets, as the team was growing fast,” Steenberge said.

“In an effort to provide more people an opportunity to be on a swim team based in Granbury/Hood County, we met with the Granbury City Council and the GISD School Board. We asked them to let us use the old City Pool that was just sitting empty.”

That became the SEALS’ summer home for many years before moving to the YMCA a few years ago.

“In the meantime, we had meetings with TAAF Region 4 leaders to explore more options for meets. I also put more attention into getting more training and education in the art of swim coaching,” Steenberge recalled. “The team continued to grow each year, the high school team improved dramatically, and we were able to offer opportunities for swimmers to dream and succeed with their swim careers on higher levels.

“At the same time, we have always provided a place and a sport where boys and girls, men and women of all abilities and skills can develop their swimming and become the most supportive teammates possible.”

WORLDWIDE SUCCESS

Perhaps the most notable swimmer to come out of the SEALS program is Dana Vollmer. As a child she started with the SEALS and went on to win seven gold medals and break world records swimming in the Olympics.

Vollmer competed in the Olympic Swim Trials at age 12, and at 16 she qualified for the squad and competed in her first of three Olympics.

Other notables coached by Steenberge who went on to swim four years in college include Seabre Pope (North Texas), Georgia Steenberge (Notre Dame), Xela Steenberge (University Of Tampa and University College Dublin), Cole Rezsofi (Trinity), Kaylee Brawner (Incarnate Word), Ann Wilcox (Trinity) and Jessica Gryder (Wayland Baptist and McMurry).

Other collegiate SEALS swimming alumni include Nick Vollmer (TCU), Brock Holmgreen (Air Force Academy), Anthony Castillo (Centenary), Mary Power (Southwestern), Avery Buchanan (Hillsdale), Abby Swaim (McMurry), Mackenzie Reiner (McMurry) and Tyler Gentry (McMurry).

“These aforementioned swimmers started college swimming then needed to focus on their academics. The great thing is it got them to a good school,” Steenberge said. “We currently have SEALS swimmers in college giving our community a good name.”

They include Tyler McDermott (Austin College), Brady Porter (Malone University) and Jordan Buchanan (Hendrix).

“Each of these, along with over 3,000 other SEALS are great people with whom we have had the privilege to spend some time as they passed through the program on their way to being successful in various walks of life,” Steenberge said.

STEADY SUCCESS/FAMILY FOCUSED

At the height of the program, SEALS team swimmer numbers were close to 300 people. When Covid struck in 2020 it dwindled to about 60. Last year they numbered about 160.

“The community bounced back and regained its vitality and focus on group and team participation,” Steenberge said. “I do not know what to expect this year. We are hoping for the best with lots of return swimmers and families.”

Families are big part of SEALS. In fact, it’s been a regularity to have siblings participate together, and now children and even grandchildren of the early swimmers have passed through the program.

It’s also one of the reasons Steenberge said they chose to compete in TAAF, which also focuses on family involvement.

“All age groups can compete in TAAF. There is even an age 6-and-under division that can compete for the TAAF State Meet. A positive thing about TAAF is they are very good about including all the members of the family with no restrictions on age,” she said. “We sometimes have the entire family swimming.”

ALL TOGETHER

“We like to keep the atmosphere a very safe place for swimmers, with a team focus — all of the camaraderie that goes with team and community — where they can come and not be afraid to make a mistake, learn swimming skills and make some lifetime friends along the way,” Steenberge said. “We have swimmers on the team that grew up swimming and now bring their children to swim practice, and swimmers who swam and are now coaches passing on the tradition.”

The SEALS have coaches who have been with the program for years, including Vicki Hamrick, Jane Zembraski , Jonah Delaney, Kori Brawner, Melissa Ward, Porter, Charles Overton (current Granbury High School coach), Amber Stone and Travis Thompson.

“They all bring their love of swimming and expertise to the pool,” Steenberge said.

“One of the greatest things about SEALS is how many moving pieces there are and how important each person is to the whole picture. Without all of the volunteers and people willing to keep the dream alive for our youth and our community we would not exist,” Steenberge continued. “We are fortunate to have the support of our past and present high school coaches.”

SUMMER SCHEDULE

The SEALS will begin the summer competition schedule Saturday, June 8 at Weatherford against Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Stephenville and Bedford. The next week they will host their own annual meet against the Ridglea Pool Association, Mineral Wells and The Colony.

On June 22 they travel to Grapevine to face Grapevine, Denton and Trophy Club to end the regular season.

The TAAF Region 4 Meet is set for July 13-14 at the Carroll ISD Aquatics Center in Southlake. From there, qualifiers will advance to the TAAF Games of Texas July 25-28 in Brownsville.