BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — The Suburban League, a summer swimming and diving league for Capital Region youths, knows its clientele.
“This absolutely is for kids who love to swim,” said Denise Murphy McGraw, parent coordinator for the Niskayuna Wild Turkeys Swim and Dive Team.
“It’s a great family atmosphere with this,” said Bryan Geary, head coach for Clifton Park’s Knolls Swim Club. “Practices are geared toward kids having fun, not sets and routines.”
That fun-first, fun-second, competition-third nature showed at the league’s multi-day championship event, which started July 29 at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center with the diving portion and concluded Aug. 1 at Shenendehowa with the final races of the swimming competition. The noise inside the Shenendehowa Aquatic Center was often deafening during the championship races, as swimmers of various ages supported their teammates with full-throated yells.
“With the Turkeys and the Suburban swimming league, something that’s a lot more noticeable is that there’s a lot of team spirit and support,” said the Wild Turkeys’ Sean Amberger, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Niskayuna High School, who competes for his school’s team and has swam for competitive clubs in the past.
Continued Amberger: “This [league] is more fun and upbeat.”
Peter Kirkpatrick, a 15-year-old swimmer for the Knolls Swim Club, agreed with that characterization. Also a member of his school team at Shenendehowa and a competitive club squad, Kirkpatrick likened the noise levels at the Suburban League’s championships to that of a sectional championship meet.
“We definitely all cheer a lot for our teammates — especially the little kids,” Kirkpatrick said.
The Knolls Swim Club easily won both the swimming and diving team titles, while the Wild Turkeys came in third place in the diving and fourth in the swimming for a strong overall team performance. The two clubs are amongst 16 teams in the Suburban League, which has teams from a variety of local counties.
The Knolls Swim Club has had a stranglehold on the team titles for more than a decade. The club, which practices at the public pool off Barney Road in Clifton Park, boasted 135 members for the 2015 season, which spanned from June 1 to Aug. 1.
“It was all a lot of fun, but we were also working on our techniques,” Kirkpatrick said. “We practiced every day from 7 to 9 a.m. [once school got out], so we’d wake up bright and early.”
Swimming outdoors is a major reason why the Suburban League is so much fun for its competitors. While the swim championships were conducted indoors, nearly all of the league’s meets and practices occur outdoors — much different for the league’s competitive swimmers, who spend their falls, winters, and springs competing indoors for school and club teams.
“Those kids never see the outdoors,” McGraw said.
Besides the sunshine, what members of teams like the Knolls Swim Club and the Wild Turkeys see during the summer is a lot of familiar faces. Swimmers like Amberger and Kirkpatrick are both multi-year veterans of the league, and it is common for swimmers and divers in the league to stick with the program for nearly a decade.
Or, even longer in Geary’s case. Now in his early 20s, Geary started with the Knolls Swim Club as a 12-year-old swimmer, and has now coached with the program for five years.
A lot has changed in those 10-plus years, but not the focus of the league.
“It’s about teaching and there’s that friendly competition,” Geary said. “The mission of this league is for fun and to get people into racing, and hopefully more involved with the sport.”
Scott Ward had a strong performance for the Niskayuna Wild Turkeys at the Suburban League’s championship meet. Ward won both the 100 backstroke and the 200 freestyle in the boys’ 13-14 age division. Ward’s winning time in the freestyle was 1:52.26, and 58.50 in the backstroke.