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City Meet: Patience key with young swimmers

Before you build a house, you have to build a foundation and that's all swim coaches like St. Albans City Pool's Dave Cunningham and South Hills Swim Club's Cindy Hemsworth are trying to do with their youngest of swimmers.Kids 8-and-under were competing on Thursday evening in the Greater Kanawha Valley Summer Championship, also known as the City Swim Meet, at the University of Charleston Natatorium.At such a young age, it's hard to tell who will stay with the sport and who won't, but at first, goals and expectations are simple."At first, it's get them not afraid of the water, because most of them at that age really can't swim very well," Cunningham said. "It's just a matter of getting in the water with them and teaching them how to do the strokes properly."When they make it from one end to the other without stopping, it's really something to see, because parents are excited, coaches are excited - that's what I like to see when they make it from one end of the other without stopping. That's the main goal."Cunningham is in his 19th year coaching St. Albans, the only public pool competing in the four-day event.Although his numbers are a bit down this year (between 30-40 as compared to 50-60 normally), Cunningham said the pool's public status allows swimmers from all around the area to join."Being the only public pool, we can draw from everywhere," Cunningham said. "We did this because not everybody can afford to join a private pool so we decided, 'Let's let everyone have a chance to swim.' We have them from Winfield, Hurricane, Teays Valley . . ."Hemsworth, who is in her ninth year at South Hills, has a larger number of swimmers with 30-40 in the 10-and-under range alone.Still, much of what she is trying to instill in her swimmers is the same.
"What I try to do is to provide a fun learning environment for the kids and that's what I'm working toward - just to build a foundation and just to teach them to love the sport," Hemsworth said.Both also agreed that while these swimmers are at the beginning of their instruction, they are all super competitive once they hit the water.Still, with a good 10-12 years left of growth and maturation to go, it's hard to place a finger on which swimmers will grow into future City Meet champions, high school champions, or even college swimmers."It's kind of hard," Cunningham said. "In any sport, kids peak at different stages. I've seen kids that started out really well and the others catch up with them and pass them."And while physically it may be hard to predict the future, Hemsworth said the drive is there at an early age.
"You can tell the kids that love it immediately and the ones that don't," Hemsworth said.A total of 14 final events were held Thursday, 12 of them in the 6 and under division. All other events were qualifiers for Saturday's finals.Competition resumes today at 5:30 p.m. with age groups 9-10 and 11-12 in the pool.Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948,, or follow him at  
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