Laurel Highlands swimmers step up their game

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 12:53 a.m.

The Regional Family YMCA of Laurel Highlands swim program is offering a solution for the winter doldrums and parents whose children are longing for warmer days and swim time.

With its home pool at Connellsville Area High School, the swim program has a team of elite swimmers, as well as several programs for younger kids, including a learn to swim program.

The group is in the midst of a fall/winter session that runs from September through March, while its summer program runs from mid-April through July.

Practices for the swim team are offered five to six days a week, depending on level and ability.

The Learn to Swim program is in April, May and June. There are three different sessions of ten 35 minute classes and each session costs $50.

"This will be the third year for the Learn to Swim program and it is becoming very popular," said head coach Laurel Highlands.

As for being a member of the swim team, she said competitive swimming is not for everyone, but it has become more popular with the kids because of the recent popularity of swimmer Michael Phelps, who took the Olympics by storm.

"Two years ago, we had 32 members on our team and now we have up to 64 members, thanks to having a 'home' pool again and to Michael Phelps' show in the 2008 Olympics," Highlands said. "Many people think of swimming as an easy sport -- they relate it more to a recreation of splashing around outside in backyard pools -- but anyone who has ever tried competitive swimming knows it is much more difficult."

She added that it takes a lot of dedication by both the swimmer and their parents.

"Swimming is not a sport where you can practice once or twice a week and become good," Highlands said. "Once they (swimming participants) reach the age of 12, they need to decide if swimming is the sport for them, because if it is, they basically need to practice every day."

Being involved in the swim club is really a family affair for Highlands. Her brother John Highlands is a coach and her mom Barb Highlands helps out as an assistant coach. Chris Kerrigan and Brad Bonnett are volunteer coaches who also help make the program successful.

"I've been involved with this team for 31 years -- 21 years as a coach and 13 years as a swimmer," Laurel Highlands said.

Her dad took over as head coach in 1984, and she took over the team after her college graduation in 1995 and has been the head coach ever since.

Barb Highlands has been involved with the team from the beginning, when Laurel and John Highlands started out as members back in 1976.

John Highlands swam for the team, then coached at Bloomsburg University and Fairmont State University before starting a club team out of Fairmont.

He returned home to take over the family business and began helping his sister coach the YMCA team.

John Highlands coaches the 9- to 12-year-olds and along with Bonnett and Laurel Highlands, coaches the 8-and-unders, beginners and the 12-and-older age groups. Chris Kerrigan is the dry land coach.

During the past two years, the team's participation has been increasing, but it goes up and down. Highlands said she is very proud of what has been accomplished.

"Swimming teaches discipline, work ethic, sportsmanship and team dedication and I'm proud of the fact that the majority of our members go on to swim in college and most of them on scholarships, she said. "When they leave the LHRY family, I get letters, calls and texts thanking me for having prepared them to achieve success at a collegiate level."

She said she's proud of the commitment level of the team and the fact that some of her swimmers are now coaching.

Find out more

Those who would like to be a part of the swim team can find out more about the program at .

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