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Stingrays celebrate 10th anniversary of steady swim league title climbs

Jim Rooney remembered how his family first became involved in Sugarwood Stingrays Swim Team in what became the youth program's inaugural season in 1999.

Rooney, a team president and head coach who led the Stingrays through a dominant league period in the early 2000s, said Kelley Greene, team founder and first head coach, “knocked on our door one day and asked us if our kids wanted to participate. I said, ‘sure.’”

Reflecting on program success as its celebrates a 10-year anniversary, Rooney's daughters, Brooke, 8, and Brittany, 6, competed in 1999 among “thirty some-odd children. The following year I joined [Greene’s] effort as assistant coach because it was such a successful first year,” he said.

“The third year she moved out of the neighborhood and I assumed the head coaching position.”

Rooney’s head coaching stint lasted four years during a five-year span where the Stingrays won five consecutive league titles [moving up one league level each year].

“We went on an undefeated [league] run all those years,” Rooney said. “I thought it was a great progression for five or six years ... an incredible run.”

By 2007, Brittany would be part of a record-setting 15-18 Mixed 200-yard relay team.

A program of almost 100 children ages 5 to 18 in 2009, Stingrays swimming has been “literally part of our family. It engulfed our summers,” Rooney said. “We had a lot of fun with it. ... It's just been a life-changing experience for me personally and my children.

“A lot of the kids that started on that team ended up going off and getting college scholarships and have competed on national level teams. And have gone on to coach other teams as well.”

Other head coaches have been Greg Williams (two seasons) and Scott Olson (one season). John Gitto is a former team president.

In 2008, Chester Carbaugh took over as president and acquired Stephanie Livers, a 13-time All-American with the Tennessee Lady Vols swim and dive team (1992-96), as head coach beginning that same season.

Livers, a sixth-grade math teacher at West Valley Middle School, said she “loves the kids" and “I love to teach ... passing along all of the knowledge I've gained all of the years I've been involved in the sport. And I love the sport. The parents are extremely supportive.”

In the last two seasons, “technically you'd classify us in a rebuilding mode,” Carbaugh said. “But our team membership has improved from 76 swimmers last year to 97 currently.

“That's solely, truly, because we were able to hire Stephanie Livers, that's been an instrumental part of the turnaround of our team,” he added. "We've got great coaching. The great thing about Stephanie, she's a teacher, and she is demanding on them. But she is a teacher by heart. We're focusing a lot on family.”

Carbaugh and Rooney said about 50 percent of Sugarwood's team traditionally come from outside the neighborhood.

Practices start with “dry land” workouts the second week of May through the annual Greater Knoxville Area Interclub Swimming Association “City Meet" at UT’s Allen Jones Aquatic Center in late July. This year the meet is Friday through Sunday, July 24-26.

With the controversy concerning Sugarwood Homeowners Association members getting enough “pool time” versus Stingrays' pool time, Livers said, “I got really creative with my morning times, trying to get all of my swimmers in in the morning before the pool opens.

“Last year I had my older kids practicing in the evening. We only utilize half of the pool for two hours in the evening. ... I still have only three lanes in the afternoon,” she added. “I've got a couple of kids who can't practice in the mornings, so we really need that afternoon time.”

Sugarwood finished ninth of 36 Knox-area teams in last year’s “City Meet,” with just 22 swimmers amassing the points. “It was the quality, not quantity, which came to show that these kids did an outstanding job of working hard last summer,” Livers said.

Kim Lewis, 18, twin brother, Brett, and Alex Ward joined Brittany Rooney as part of a “City Meet” record in 2008 in the 15-18 Mixed 200-free relay (1:34.33).

The Lewis twins and Ward are assistant coaches and competitors on the 2009 team.

Brett said he and Kim started with Sugarwood at age 13. Looking back, “It's a lot of fun and it's a very family friendly team,” Brett said. “We try to keep people together so the whole family can do it. I coach just because I love swimming and I like Sugarwood.”

Kim said, “We have a lot of kids who couldn't even swim across the pool, and now they're jumping in without fear and they can get all the way across.”

Sugarwood competes in League 3 this year alongside Gulfwood, Gulf Park, Fox Den, Whittington Creek and Concord Hills.

The main goal? “I want to see every kid love the sport the way I do,” Livers said. “I want the kids to have fun and feel like they were part of something.”


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