Young swimmers make a splash at Kroc Center

Not even a snowstorm could stop them. More than 100 kids braved the winter weather on Saturday to be a part of the biggest thing in Northwest sporting news, the new Salvation Army Kroc Center swim team.

Excitement was in the air, and a little nervousness too. But as coach Jim Ellis explained, there was good reason for that, for many kids swimming on a team is totally new.

“It’s like starting a baby,” he beamed. “It’s exciting to see the kids start with a passion for swimming and know they will develop into positive and confident individuals. The sky is the limit for these kids.”

Right now, the Salvation Army Kroc swim team has 3 coaches and a core of 20 members who came from the Philadelphia Department of Recreation team in November.  Ellis achieved notoriety by creating the Department of Recreation team decades ago and coaching many city kids to successful college swim careers.

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With tryouts at the Kroc Center so well attended, and pre-swim team lessons underway, coach Ellis sees the new team expanding to 100 after a year.

To Ellis swimming in the city is important. Life saving really. And doing it well, means doing it competitively. Only, as many neighborhood struggles have shown, that’s not so easy.

One of the biggest impediments in the Northwest was the lack of top-notch swimming pools. Parents watched as pool after pool closed in the area over the last several years: the YWCA and YMCA in Germantown, and Ellis’ own Marcus Foster pool in Hunting Park – a school district run facility that shut down in 2008.

Now that has changed, with a 10-lane competition-grade pool at the Kroc Center. And it’s no small help to have a coach like Ellis at the helm.

“You can’t get a better track record than the one Jim Ellis has,” commented parent Jen Bradley, a prior swimming coach.  Like many of the parents there, she’s looking forward to her kids learning under his tutelage.

For other parents it’s simply about the athletics of it all.

Three generations of the Wardlaw family were cheering on Samiyah, age 10, at the try-outs.  Grandpop, Eckloff Wardlaw, says it’s in their genes, “I excelled in basketball and fencing. My son was on the wrestling team.  Now it’s my granddaughter’s turn. She chose swimming and I’m looking forward to the 2020 Olympics.”

Still others see the new program having ripple effects far beyond the pool.

“It’s huge. The combination of this team, facility and coach will change the mindset of this community and its youth,” said parent Tunji Turner.  “The competition and exposure will prepare them to be global citizens in the 21st century.”

And for the kids – the swimmers – it’s about a whole lot of things all at once.

Samiyah Wardlaw loves swimming and was talking to friends as she awaited her try-out.  After she passed the trial she was eager to get started.

“Being on the team will make me a better swimmer, and I’m ready to practice everyday,” she said.

Maya Gerlach, age 7, was a little nervous but said she likes the exercise and the idea of being on a team. And Kai Moore, age 9, was out of breath after her swim but was willing to keep trying.

There was something for all the kids who showed up on this snowy morning. If they were strong enough swimmers, they made the team.  If not, they enrolled in a six week pre-swim team class to build up swimming skills.

Shawne Johnson, a former swimmer of coach Ellis’, signed up her two children in the pre-swim team class.  She hopes they will soon be on the team.  “It’s about never giving up and pursuing your dream,” she said.


Click here for more about the Kroc Center swim team.

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