MIDDLEBURY — On a steamy Thursday evening, about 150 young swimmers from the Middlebury and Vergennes areas gathered at the Middlebury town pool. An even larger crowd of family members and friends cheered them on, wielded watches and clipboards to keep track of their efforts, or — in the case of many parents — just chatted in the ample downtown between their kids’ and their kids’ friends events.
That scene has been repeated for decades around the Middlebury and Vergennes pools, not to mention those in Winooski, St. Albans, Essex and Burlington that host the other teams in the Champlain Valley Swim League.
Some local swimmers are top-notch and go on to make their mark in college — former record-setting Vergennes Champ swimmer Nate Richard is among those who fit that description.
But the chance to advance a career in the sport does not explain why the Middlebury Panthers’ roster is 65 names long, and more than 100 between the ages of 6 and 18 signed up for the Champs this summer.
Sarah Snider, at 18 a 12-year veteran of the Middlebury team, offers a better perspective. Snider has been a competitive swimmer — she won three races on Thursday — but didn’t let swimming influence her choice of college; she won’t compete for Division I Old Dominion University this winter.
“It’s so much fun,” Snider said of summer swimming. “The coaches make the practices so you want to get up in the morning and you want to go. After away swim meets the team goes out as a family and we go and get dinner. Everyone’s there, and we’re taking up multiple tables and it’s just fun. The conversations go across to everyone. And the competition is very friendly. It’s friendly, but it’s good. It’s definitely something that’s worth working for.”
Snider got her start with the Panthers like many other members of both teams — her brother swam. Both teams have many multiple siblings.
Middlebury has two each sharing the names Bolton, Devaney, Gleason, Hodson, Kimble, Moulton, Olson, Schmitt, Weinberg and Yurista; and trios each named Milligan and Weekes.
Vergennes has a pair apiece named Beauchemin, Bissonette, Bowen, Brooks, Cook, DeGraaf, Dews, Hameline, Hearthstone, Henderson, Huestis, Jerome, Jones, Kenfield, Lalumiere, Mullin, Rathbun, Smith, Steen, Vincent and Welt, plus three Hustons, Kimballs and Sausvilles, and four Palmers.
Snider remembers signing on, and family factored into the decision.
“My brother did it, and I wanted to do what my brother does, and I just fell in love with everything about it,” Snider said. “I fell in love with the team, the coaches. I love the coaches that we’ve had. The whole aspect of it’s very much a team sport, but it’s also it’s very much individual. So you train for yourself, but it also benefits the rest of the team.”
Focus levels tend to vary among the ages. One young racer on Thursday saw family and friends on the deck rooting her on during the backstroke, and smiled happily at them as she finished the final 15 feet of the race, even when she bumped against the end of the pool.
Snider said it took her time to even want to race.
“I wouldn’t swim in meets when I was younger. I was telling my coach if she moved in with me, then I would swim in a meet. I gradually became more used to the concept of racing,” she said. “It took me a year or two to accept the whole competition part of it.”
Many of the younger swimmers hugged Snider before and after their races, and she said the relationships team members build extend outside the pool.
“You’ll be walking down the street and you’ll see the little kids, and they’ll come running up to you and say, ‘Hi, how are you? How was your day? Guess what I did today.’ Stuff like that. It’s definitely great. It’s a huge family,” Snider said. “It’s a huge family that you see someone everywhere you go, and it’s good to see them.”
Relationships extend between the swimmers from the two teams, and their parents. Two sets of parents, one from each team, had sons who played baseball together; they caught up on that sport and talked about how tall each of their 10-year-old sons had grown. The tone of the conversation did not change as one boy finished first and the other second in a close race.
As Snider said, the competition is friendly.
“There’s Vergennes swimmers that you’ll see them in the bullpen and you’ll joke around and laugh with them walking up behind the blocks. And it will be nice to talk to them,” she said. “And then you step up on the blocks and you say, ‘Game time. Good luck.’ And then after the race you’ll talk a bit.”
Thursday was Snider’s final dual meet. Although the league and state meets remain on the schedule and she might help out the program in the future, her emotions surfaced when she was asked what she will most remember about her summer swimming years.
“It’s definitely the friendships we’ve made. Oh my goodness. Like Lauren Brady. All through my swimming career she’s been like an older sister to me ... and Mychaella Devaney, all those friendships and everything. We’ll hang out and we’ll go out to breakfast, dinner, lunch, even in the offseason,” she said. “It’s definitely the friendships I’ve made.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]