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Sibling coaches, swimmers make GCSL a family affair

Staff Photo: Will Hammock Mill Creek grad Hayleigh McCall (center) is the head coach at Hidden Falls, where she coaches her younger sisters Ansleigh (left) and Carleigh (right) in the Gwinnett County Swim League.

Staff Photo: Will Hammock Mill Creek grad Hayleigh McCall (center) is the head coach at Hidden Falls, where she coaches her younger sisters Ansleigh (left) and Carleigh (right) in the Gwinnett County Swim League.


Special Photo Megan Heller, left, and her younger sister, Torrie, are among several sibling coach/swimmer combinations in the Gwinnett County Swim League this season.


Staff Photo: David Friedlander Field's Club's Chandler Janis, 20, center, pictured with brother Connor, 18, and sister Carlyn, 13, is one of several Gwinnett Swim League head coaches to have younger siblings swim for them heading into the county meet this weekend at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.


Special Photo Bright Water Breeze coach Brandon Clay, 22, and his 14-year-old brother Ryan represent just one of several sibling head coach-swimmer combinations in the Gwinnett County Swim League this summer.


Special Photo Anna Cottle, left, is in her first season as head coach of Berkeley Hills Barracudas after serving as an assistant the last three years, while her younger brother Peter swims for the team and serves as one of her assistant coaches. Both siblings have been involved with the Barracudas' program as swimmers or coaches for more than a decade.

Like many other community-based summer swimming leagues, family is often an underlying theme in the Gwinnett County Swim League.

It is common to find brothers and sisters from the same family competing for one the league's 45 teams each year.

What is a little less common is a phenomenon that is present with at least five league teams this season -- one in which the siblings from a family aren't all teammates.

Each of these five teams feature a head coach who has at least one younger sibling swimming for him or her.

It's an arrangement that offers a slightly different dynamic than when a parent coaches his or her children, though there are some similarities.

"Swimming is very much a family sport," said 21-year-old Hayleigh McCall, whose sisters, 17-year-old Ansleigh and 12-year-old Carleigh, swim for her with the Hidden Falls Rapids. "Our mom (Christy) also runs the team (as president). So, it's a family affair.

"As a head coach, I just have to make sure to treat them the same as anyone else on the team. Usually, it's not too hard. You just have to see them as one of the other swimmers."

That task also runs both ways, and exactly how difficult it is depends on who you ask.

For instance, 13-year-old Carlyn Janis finds at least one way in which her relationship with her 20-year-old sister Chandler is somewhat more challenging as her head coach with the Fields Club team, rather than at home.

"Well, it's a little different because she can tell me what to do now," joked Carlyn Janis, whose 18-year-old brother Connor also swims for Fields Club, as well as serving as one of the assistant coaches.

If it sometimes seems awkward for a swimmer to have an older brother or sister as a head coach, imagine what it must be like to not only swim for an older sibling, but also coach under them.

That is the case with Chandler and Connor Janis, as well as Hayleigh and Ansleigh McCall with Hidden Falls, plus 21-year-old Berkeley Hills Barracudas head coach Anna Cottle and her 18-year-old brother Peter and 20-year-old Apalachee Aquatics head coach Megan Heller and her 18-year-old sister Torrie.

However, focus on the job, as well as one's own competitive events, can often counter whatever awkwardness the younger sibling may have.

"It's kind of weird to think of her as my boss. Not much, but it's a bit different," Connor Janis said of Chandler. "But I'm usually working with the kids, so I don't really think about it that much.

"And when it gets to the older (age group events), I get a chance to kind of take a break (from how busy a meet can get) and just swim my events."

As much as the head coach may deal with her younger siblings in a similar way to each other, as well as the other swimmers on the team, it's not always an easy task, either.

The difference in ages can be a factor, with larger gaps, like those between 22-year-old Bright Water Breeze coach Brandon Clay and his 14-year-old brother Ryan, providing a different relationship than that where the age difference is less, like with the Cottles.

And when there are three siblings of varying ages involved, like with the Janis and McCall families, things can get even more complicated.

"Ansleigh is probably more involved (than the other assistant coaches)," Hayleigh McCall said. "Maybe she feels more responsibility because we're often at home together.

"With Carleigh, ... I helped my parents with (babysitting and taking care of) her when she was born. So, I guess it may be easier for her to see me as an authority figure."

Still, all the siblings involved find the combination of family and the GCSL worth all the challenges -- so much so, that they can't image what it would be like each year without practices and meets.

"Summers would be weird (without the team) because we're always (at the pool), and we're always there to cheer each other on," Carlyn Janis said.

All of them will eventually have to find what summers would be like without the GCSL, and in some cases, fairly soon.

It's a prospect Hayleigh McCall says she is not looking forward to, but accepts.

"I'll probably come back (to coach) next year, but at some point, I'm hoping to start medical school," said Hayleigh, who will be entering her third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia in the fall. "So, it won't be my summer anymore. I can't imagine what it will be like because it's been my life. It will be strange for me to go from this world out into the real world, I guess. It will be sad for me."

So, while they can, each of the sibling combinations will continue the cherish the moments they have together, such as practices and meet nights, and especially the county championship meet.

Not all of the brother and sisters will be participating in this year's meet, which gets underway today at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, and it's not necessarily because they didn't qualify to do so.

Chandler Janis says other commitments have limited her family's participation in the county meet in the past, and as a result, they do not take it for granted.

"Until I was older, like in the 13-14 or 15-18 (age groups), I always qualified for the 50 butterfly at least, but I hadn't gotten to swim in it (before then) because we'd always go on vacation at that time," Chandler Janis recalled. "As a coach, I've been there for at least three years, and probably swam just as much. It's a great swim meet. It's so much fun to see (swimmers from one of) the best swimming counties in the nation.

"That's why I tell the kids, ... 'Some people never get to go to this meet the whole time they're swimming. It's a big deal to get to go to this meet and qualify for it.'"