Leader Blues

Friday, June 09, 2006

SPORTS >> CASL gets started with large tri-meet

BY RAY BENTON AND JASON KING
Leader sports writers

IN SHORT: Cabot, Sherwood and Lonoke meet at the Lonoke Community Center today, the opening day for the Central Arkansas Swim League.

The Central Arkansas Swim League gets started again this weekend, and three local teams will be competing at the same venue in week one.

Sherwood, Cabot and Lonoke will meet at the Lonoke Community Center at 8 a.m. today for a tri-meet to kick off the new season.

The meet marks the beginning of the Sherwood Sharks’ quest for a third-straight CASL championship, and it’s very likely to happen.

Sherwood comes back from its second consecutive league championship with its largest team ever. Around 210 young athletes make up the Sharks’ roster, including several that won Meet of Champions’ titles last year.

Sherwood’s team organizer and lead volunteer Mary Jo Heye is excited about the growing popularity of the sport.
“The popularity of swimming is really picking up,” Heye said. “I think a lot of it is word of mouth. Kids are going back to school and telling friends how great it is. It’s the fastest growing high-school sport in the state of Arkansas. It’s a good lifelong sport, and a good crosstraining activity for athletes in other sports.”

Jacksonville High School started a swim team three years ago. They were coached by Cabot’s CASL coach Debbie Skidmore.
Cabot just finished its first year of high school swimming as well.

Skidmore has been back at work with the Cabot summer swimmers in recent weeks, and expects to field a competitive team again this year. Like last year, 12- and 14-under girls will be Cabot’s deepest group, but the team excels in several divisions and age groups.

One thing that hasn’t gone well for Cabot already this season is the lack of a home pool.

The Piranhas arranged a deal with the Jacksonville Community Center to host events there, but the comm. center’s pool’s roof is being renovated, and repairs are taking longer than expected.

Cabot is acting as the host team at this weekend’s meet, but the venue had to be changed because of the repairs in Jacksonville.

Lonoke is the smallest team in CASL.

Last year the Sharkrockets teamed up with Bryant, but will team with the North Little Rock YMCA for the 2006 season.
Although smaller in numbers than other local teams, the Sharkrockets continue to grow every year.

Now in their fourth season, the Sharkrockets started with just 20 swimmers, but have seen that number grow to over 60 at the start of spring practice this May.

Sharkrockets team organizer Susan Wright has also noticed the increased popularity of the sport in recent summers.
She says many younger swimmers have come from surrounding areas like England, Scott, Carlisle and Humnoke, tripling the Sharkrockets’ roster in a mere three summers.

“I am really encouraged by all of the new kids that have joined,” Wright said.

“Those are my heroes. These kids are learning how to swim while competing with other kids, and that takes a lot of courage.
“It’s exciting for a rural area like Lonoke to have a nice facility where kids can come and take part in a league like this. Not every kid is a baseball player, so it’s nice to have an alternative for them.”

There are only four meets this year, and they will be every Saturday for three weeks before taking the July 1 date off.

The final regular-season meet will be held July 8, and the meet of champions will take place at UALR on July 15.