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Getting to Know ... Meg Rooney

Staff Intern: Graham Robson Meg Rooney, vice president of the Gwinnett County Swim League, has been volunteering for 17 years. Rooney has stayed active in the administration providing improvements each season while ensuring the league activities are run smoothly.

Staff Intern: Graham Robson Meg Rooney, vice president of the Gwinnett County Swim League, has been volunteering for 17 years. Rooney has stayed active in the administration providing improvements each season while ensuring the league activities are run smoothly.

Meg Rooney is the vice president and records secretary for the Gwinnett County Swim League and has held a position on the board for the last 17 years. Rooney, a Lilburn resident and accountant by trade, got involved when her children Amy and Philip started swimming in the league as kids and has remained a fixture since.

In this installment of "Getting to Know ...", Rooney talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a number of topics, including how the GCSL has maintained such a high level over the years, balancing her real job with her volunteer hours with the league and a planning a wedding reception with college football's preeminent family.

CT: How did you first get involved in the GCSL board?

MR: One year, I just jumped in. I'm a Type A person and I can't sit still. The first thing I worked on was publicity. I worked with the media and started making suggestions for stories. I always felt like the league was beyond fast times and it was the stories that grabbed the human heart that really represented us.

So stories about children who had heart surgeries and came to swim and overcome. Or we had a family, the Morsbergers, who had seven daughters and one of them had Down Syndrome. They all swam. We had another little girl who was born with half an arm and she was amazing in all sports.

Those are the kind of stories I like to see. The best way to get a story not suggested by me was for a parent to send me a story telling me how awesome their child was. Amanda Weir's mother never did that. Eric Shanteau's mother never did that. The truly great ones, you know, don't.

We did our share of fast swimmers, don't get me wrong, but I just felt like we were more than just that.

Swimming, a lot of people don't realize -- you're really hitting my passion as you can tell -- the discipline and the things the kids can take out of it. They learn to embrace competition, not to run, because competition will make you faster. That's something that can carry you through life.

That was a lot of what I liked. I liked the fact that everyone in the family could be on the same team. I don't know of too many other sports that get as many adults involved. And a lot of people don't realize how easy it is to get a small scholarship at a school, especially girls, so I liked that aspect of it, too.

And I like that fact that Eric Shanteau, you know, he used to be in my carpool with my daughter. You create something that leads to dreams for these kids. That, to me, is fascinating.

CT: Has the size and scope of the Gwinnett Swim League changed since you got involved?

MG: It's 6,546 swimmers this year -- and it actually used to be larger. If my memory is serving me correctly, I think we used to be around 6,600 to 6,700. We were up to about 52 or 53 teams. Out of that, only three teams did we lose to another league. Gwinnett, however, is unusual in that the level of competitors it maintains is unbelievable.

Back in 1997 or 1998, when we moved to the Olympic pool, I called U.S. Swimming because I wanted to discuss with them what to do about our records. Our records had been at Briscoe Park, which was a meter pool. I called and they were like, 'Well, it doesn't matter -- you're talking summer league.' And I said, 'let me tell you who is in my records.' I was listing top heats of Olympic Trial times. These are my record holders and they still swim for me. They said, "Really? In a summer league?" Yeah, they did. The competition we maintain is an unusually high level and always has been.

Because of that, it's a business. That's where it's a difficulty marrying these concepts. Our biggest expenditure is insurance -- and that's how you can tell it's a business. Therefore, you have to have some ability to structure yourself and run yourself as a business. But you have others saying, "This is just summer league. This is just fun and games."

Yes it is, but it's a business and we have to make decisions from that sense. My feeling is everyone plays better when they all know the rules and they all play by the same rules. The integrity of this league is unbelievable and that is probably what has maintained its level of play.

The board has always been very good about making decisions, not based on what they need for their team, but what's good for the whole organization.

CT: Is the structure of the organization your doing or is that years of everybody pitching in?

MR: It probably really started with Gary Theisen -- I'm on my fifth president and never wanted to be president myself. When he took it over, he was very structured. He started it and set the environment where structure was welcomed. (Laughing) Hey, you're playing my song.

CT: Where did you grow up?

MR: I grew up in Memphis. My aunt had a swimming pool, but I really grew up kind of poor so I didn't have any structured youth activities. We played baseball in the backyard and when I'd go to my aunt's, I'd swim. But I'm not a big swimmer. I don't like to get my hair wet (laughing). Or my face wet.

But we got my daughter into swimming. She was in dance and I looked at the routine she would be doing in the next level up and thought, 'OK, I don't think we're going to do that.' I turned to my husband and said, 'you better find her something else to do.' Our next door neighbors are a big swim family of Gwinnett, the Odoms. Matt just graduated from the Coast Guard Academy, but all four of them went to Parkview. So they kind of got us into Hanarry West with our team. They were at Parkview and our kids were at Brookwood. But senior year, Philip and Matt were captains, one for Parkview and one for Brookwood. It was fun. And because we were at Hanarry West, my closest friends were really over at Parkview. We were in a house where we had been in the Brookwood, Parkview and Shiloh districts over the years.

CT: When did you move to the Atlanta area?

MR: In 1985. In Lilburn. We're in the same house. We're one of the few.

CT: Gwinnett has changed a lot since then. Up until 25 years ago or so, Pleasant Hill and the area around Meadowcreek was the edge of civilization.

MR: When we moved here, Pleasant Hill was considered out in the boonies. Everyone talked about Indian Trail as a dirt road. I don't quite remember that.

It has changed and one thing I would love to do, and I talk about this, I've been told U.S. Swimming has some grant money. I'd like to see if we could get some money to see if we could work a swimming program into a neighborhood or scholarships for some of the children at schools like Meadowcreek. The Mountain Park team is the most multicultural team you'd ever see. They really need volunteers. It's really two or three people doing most of it. I'd like to get some grant money to kind of help.Meadowcreek really reaches out. About two years ago, they got a new coach over at the high school and I do a little bit of work with high school swimming. I run the computer for their two largest meets. Meadowcreek, what really caught my attention, was Anthony Rainge. He has brought that team to life. It was really struggling and they've got tons of swimmers now.

He asked about where they could get involved in summer league. The problem is you've got to have $150 or so to get on a team. So I'd love to see if we could work to get some grant money to help those children.

One of the things I like about swimming is the safety side of it. It's teaching people comfort and confidence in the water -- and you never know when they can use it.

CT: One of the other things that stands out about the league is how many kids come back to coach.

MR: My son and daughter both came back and coached. And it's interesting, one of the first human interest stories I did was Hanarry Estates, our first team, and it was on the kids of the former swimmers being in the league. I think we're just about to a point of getting some grandkids in the league.

The league was formed in 1973, so next year is our 40th anniversary. Which is a pretty cool thing.

CT: After your kids were out of the league, was it a tough decision to stay with it?

MR: It wasn't tough at that time. I left my team in 2006. But probably the last year or so I'm saying, as I'm starting to go into my golden years, don't I really need to be putting that energy into things to make more money so I can retire? My daughter has actually said to me, 'If I have a baby, would you quit swim league?' (Laughing) I said, let me think about that.

So this year I did start training someone. So I probably will try to step back in some capacity next year. But again, I'm voted in every year and I have a good rapport with the presidents and have said, you let me know when the time has come and there will not be hard feelings.

The other thing I do, because I don't have a pool, I'm free to roam around. So I try to hit four or five swim meets a night. That's going all over the county. It allows me to see things that will prevent issues later. It sounds crazy, but you have to remember how much data is coming through. If you've got 300-400 kids in a meet, that's a lot of data. When it gets mixed up, that's a nightmare to straighten out.

So I troubleshoot. I teach several classes in May, but when you get into the real environment, you see a lot more.

I will probably, as long as they want me to, continue to do that.

CT: So your Thursday nights have not been your own for a very long time?

MR: Oh gosh, no. The last 18 years. Because I was at my own meets running the computer at first.

This sport was meant for someone like me. I love data. I love numbers. I love computers. I love organizing. This is perfect. My OCD is at home here (laughing).

CT: You balance it with your real job, which is what?

MR: I'm an accountant. I have my own accounting firm, but this (roofing) company is just dominating my time. There are a lot of swim seasons I'm doing 50 or 60 work hours plus a good 30 or 40 hours of volunteer work -- depending on what kind of projects I'm working on. I really can burn the candle at both ends. People laugh about the emails from me at 3 in the morning.

But I have a lot of energy. Obviously. I don't require a lot of sleep. And I like being behind the scenes.

CT: Why did you move to Atlanta?

MR: My sister moved here and then my husband, just in looking for a job, he was with Coca-Cola in Jacksonville. He didn't come here with them, but he was in human resources in Jacksonville with Coke and we knew of a headhunter's business for doctors that a lot of my sister's friends were in. So he came here to work in physician recruiting. I was going to kind of be a stay-at-home mom. Somewhat.

CT: It doesn't sound like you have grandkids yet?

MR: No. Amy and Ryan got married two years ago. Amy actually married into the Bowden family. Ryan is one of Tommy's sons. So she says her kids will not be swimming (laughing).

We were huge FSU fans and when Amy says, 'Mom, I've got a date and I need to tell you who it is. He's an attorney and he's Bobby Bowden's grandson.' We were like, 'Really?'

But those two are meant for each other.

CT: Was it an interesting wedding reception?

MR: Bobby had double-booked some things. So he was speaking in Birmingham that weekend. What they did is he would come here and they had a chauffeur take him to Birmingham. Ann and the rest of the family was staying here. He would speak and they'd bring him back.

We did know that we would have a larger number of people than most accepting. Because from the very beginning, all of my husband's friends we like, 'That's one wedding I will go to.'CT: And obviously it wasn't on a football Saturday?

MR: Oh no. We had a two-month window they could get married in. It was interesting. We did a little nod to the football. One set of tables was named for the ACC teams and the other set for the SEC teams.

I will say, they are the most wonderful family. They're very humble. When we were planning the wedding, talking to them, they're just wonderful. I describe Ryan as the man every mother prays for for her child. And she likes him!