Three groups of young people practice for future swim competitions with the support of their coaches and parents three nights a week at the Pickett Pool. The Indo-Pacific Sailfish Aquatics Club, Polar Bears Aquatics Club and Philadelphia Department of Recreation swim team are groups comprised of serious athletes ranging in age from five to 18 years old. On April 30 all three teams will compete in a mock swim meet, “Swim Explosion” at the Pickett Pool in the Mastery Charter School, located at Wayne and Chelten avenues. Sponsored by the Indo-Pacific Sailfish, the meet is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with warm-ups beginning at 5 p.m.
Assistant coach of the Indo-Pacific Sailfish, Charisma Presley, decided to have the “Swim Explosion” because many of the swimmers on the three swim teams are not ready to participate in a competitive swim meet yet. She also said that she and her brother, head coach Gabriel Presley, hoped it would bring new faces to the Pickett pool and could open the door for more families to become involved in swimming.
“I think it’s a shame we don’t have Germantown and North Philly residents but hopefully this swim meet will encourage others to come out and to join,” Presley said.
Gabriel Presley also hopes the swim meet will attract the public and prompt more people to join the swim clubs that practice at the pool. He said, “It’s also to bring the community involved. We want so many people to know that this is Pickett Pool and we have swimmers here.”
The Indo-Pacific Sailfish began three years ago when Charisma Presley saw an opportunity to teach young people in the community how to swim and become competitive and serious swimmers. She and her siblings coach the U.S.A. registered swim club together. One of the goals they have is to try to change the way African Americans in the area approach swimming.
“We not only wanted to teach children how to swim, but we wanted to train, particularly African-American coaches because we don’t have too many of them. It’s been a really fun process,” Presley said.
Both Charisma and Gabriel Presley grew up participating in swimming and carried their fondness for the sport into their adult life. Their childhood experience allowed them to see how so many inner-city children are unable to swim. Their upbringing coupled with their desire to teach today’s youth motivate them to coach this unique swim club.
With the debates and discussions on closing public pools in the city of Philadelphia a year ago, Charisma Presley and the parents of children who swim for the Sailfish and other clubs advocated to keep the Pickett Pool open so the teams could continue practicing within the city limits. They attended meetings and forums to get their message across to those in charge.
Presley said: “One of the things I said was that I don’t live in Germantown, I live in North Philadelphia and I’m here for the parents who couldn’t be here, the parents who don’t really realize the importance of swimming, I’m here for those who are voiceless, and the big lesson is that the city of Philadelphia should have an aquatics program.”
The decision was made to keep the Pickett Pool open to the public so the three teams have a place to hold their practices three nights a week.
In addition to the Indo-Pacific Sailfish, the Polar Bears Aquatics Club uses the Pickett Pool to practice their swim skills. Peg Fredlund has been head coach for two years of the club that has been in existence since 1972. The U.S.A. registered swim team currently has 28 members and only seven of whom have been with the team since December. Fredlund said that the Polar Bears have gained 15-20 children during the last three weeks. Eleven of the new members recently went to the championship meet on March 28 at the University of Delaware.
“I introduce a lot of my swimmers to the highest competition that I can find which is the championship meet. It gives them courage, a lot of them are afraid to go to any meet. But when you put them in a big meet like that, the fear is gone the first time out.,” Fredlund said.
She also said that there are many children on other swim teams that have better abilities than her team does, but she still wants her kids to get the same things out of swimming at a competitive level.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they don’t get the same experiences because they’re not A-level swimmers,” Fredlund said.
Also practicing at the Pickett Pool and competing in “Swim Explosion” is the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, or the PDR swim team, coached by Tracy Freeland. Freeland began swimming with PDR in 1974 and now coaches the elite team that is comprised of children nine years old and older.
Ken Booker, secretary of the Indo-Pacific Sailfish, wants the public to know that the Sailfish, as well as the other swim clubs, are serious swim teams that compete in major swim meets. While instruction is still offered, the swim clubs focus on improving the children’s swim skills through exercises done on land in addition to in the water.
Not only are the coaches serious about helping their young swimmers, but the children are focused on bettering their abilities and winning races, too.
“One of the swimmers said, ‘Coach Charisma, I need you to push me.’ She said even when I cry I need you to push me. I need you to challenge me,” Presley said on how dedicated and driven her swimmers are.
On April 30, these three swim teams will put their hard work and training to use at the “Swim Explosion” meet. The swimmers will compete in a series of races and relays at the Picket Pool that will challenge them in such strokes as butterfly stroke, backstroke and freestyle.
Charisma Presley said she was 16 years old when she met Fredlund and swam for PDR also when she was younger.
“It’s funny, we all ended up back here at Pickett,” Presley said.
This swim meet will bring the coaches back together in a way that is different from practicing alongside each other at the pool. “Swim Explosion” is all about bringing people together from the children on the teams and families to the entire community.
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