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Neighborhood swim teams compete in season opener

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Olde Savannah Square Thunderbolts swimmers Haley Bernardo, 11, Karly Paske, 11, left center, Georgina Ward, 11, right center, and Caitlin Mussak, 11, all of Duluth, chat prior to the summer league swim meet against Morning View Manta Rays at the Morning View Swimming Pool in Suwanee on Thursday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Olde Savannah Square Thunderbolts swimmers Haley Bernardo, 11, Karly Paske, 11, left center, Georgina Ward, 11, right center, and Caitlin Mussak, 11, all of Duluth, chat prior to the summer league swim meet against Morning View Manta Rays at the Morning View Swimming Pool in Suwanee on Thursday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Girls from the Morning View Manta Rays swim team cheer on their teammates during the summer league swim meet against the Olde Savannah Square Thunderbolts at the Morning View Swimming Pool in Suwanee on Thursday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Hundreds of swimmers and their families crowd around the Morning View Swimming Pool during the summer league swim meet between the Morning View Manta Rays and the Olde Savannah Square Thunderbolts in Suwanee on Thursday.

SUWANEE -- Casting a shadow over the entire pool, the mega slide at the Morning View clubhouse usually catches your attention as soon as you enter. The slide, which wraps around four times before letting off into the pool, faded into the background on Thursday evening, as the Morning View Manta Rays took on the Olde Savannah Square Thunderbolts in their first swim meet of the season.

The Manta Rays and the Thunderbolts are two of 44 neighborhood teams that compete in the Gwinnett County Swim League (GCSL), which includes divisions for swimmers six and under through 18 years old.

After a couple weeks of practice, Morning View and North Gwinnett High coach David Ellwanger was ready to dive into a new season.

"I'm excited about the brand new swimmers," he said. "They're being introduced to the world of swimming."

Citing Michael Phelps, Ellwanger said that some of the best swimmers started in neighborhood swim teams just like Morning View.

Beginner Skylar Bailey placed third in her meet for the nine- and 10-year-old girls division of the backstroke. Bailey, although proud of her accomplishment, said the best part about competing was getting to see all of her friends.

Swimmers of all ages agreed that the sense of community they receive from swimming with their neighborhood friends is an added benefit of being one of the 6,367 registered swimmers in the GCSL.

However, the community involved in the GCSL is not limited to children. Parent Laurie Saxon said the swim meets are completely driven by volunteer effort. Parents run everything from race timers to concessions.

"If you see an adult here it's because they love what they do and they love what their kids are doing," Saxon said.

According to mom Colleen Scott, the love for swimming is apparent in the coaching and structure of the program, which she described as "very detailed." The Scotts are new to the Morning View team, but are anticipating a great season. Commenting on her son, Scott said, "We're hoping he will gain more speed and that this will give him the step up that he needs to go into (high school)."

The Manta Rays have five more meets before the GCSL county championships on July 14-15 at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, but president Brian Beckman said they are off to making this a "record year." According to Beckman, several GCSL swimmers qualified for the Olympic trials.

"We have the beginners, who can't make it across the pool, and we have people who will be in London this year. We're here for everybody," said Beckman.