It has been a special swim season for the Kentlands Kingfish as the organization celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer.
Diane Dorney, former publisher of The Town Courier newspapers, founded the team along with Richard Swerdlow in 1994. Dorney cherishes this endeavor. “By far, starting the swim team would be right up there with starting the newspaper,” she said. “Both (are) essential pieces to making a strong community,” she said.
Dorney had just moved to Kentlands when her eldest daughter, Jessica, was nine years old. Jessica reaped so many benefits from their previous community’s swim team that Dorney wanted to expand upon her daughter’s love for swimming and maintain all of the social aspects Jessica enjoyed. And Dorney missed the meets where she volunteered with other parents.
“It was fun for all of us, and I wanted Jessie and her younger siblings to be able to continue in this sport after we moved,” she said. Dorney signed up her three children who became a part of the Kingfish Class of ‘94. There were 35 members in all that first season.
“For many years, June and July meant swim team. They worked with the team and played with the team,” she said.
During her years with the Kingfish, Dorney took great pleasure in watching children thrive both physically and emotionally. She admits the practice schedules were rigorous, but not many sports can match the fun of a swim team. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the Kingfish organization.
“It was a lot of work, but so rewarding,” Dorney said about the benefits to members.
The secret to why this team has generated so much energy may lie in its ability to assemble such a large number of kids in a productive and fun manner despite their differences. Kids are able to socialize and have fun with peers of all ages and backgrounds.
Kentlands resident Sooky McFadden has had three Kingfish kids in her family; her oldest son, Jason, is a former coach. McFadden has served on the Kingfish Board as the social events and merchandise coordinators.
“It’s the one place where the neighborhood kids of all different ages come together for summer fun no matter where they go to school, no matter what their swimming ability is, and no matter what other sports they do,” said McFadden.
This organization has created so much more than summers of repeated laps of freestyle and breaststrokes; lifelong bonds have been established.
Eileen Dougherty reminisced about her two children and their years on the swim team. Her daughter, once a coach, too, graduated in 2013. She now lives in D.C. with some of her former teammates.
“Living in a county with large public schools, I believe the Kingfish has been integral in assisting my boys with transitions between Rachel Carson Elementary School, Lakelands, and Quince Orchard,” said Britt Schwendinger, the parent of two current swim team members. “Over the summer, the team helps the kids foster friendships with kids from public, private or home schools.”
Along with friendships established, mentoring takes place over the summers. The team brings an opportunity for older children to teach younger ones. Older swimmers often meet with younger swimmers to give them pointers on honing their skills.
“With younger swimmers, this direct interaction with older kids as equals matters quite a lot,” said Swerdlow. “No other youth sport does that.”
Kentlands leaders, who have dedicated countless hours to the team, say the credit belongs not only to them, but to the Montgomery County Swim League as well.
“The competition is fair, and the meet scoring emphasizes team depth over individual star swimmers,” added Swerdlow.
Head Coach Tim Brockway is in his fifth year coaching the Kingfish. Even with the team’s entrance into a difficult division this year and its struggle for wins, he applauds the community and his coaching staff for their efforts. “This is a very unique community, allowing only those living in Kentlands to be on the team. We are not recruiting others. This really is the most genuine and honest community. It is who we are.”
Working hard are the Kentlands families to make sure the meets are a success. Thirty-five parents are needed to cheer on their swimmers while running the meet as timers and officials. Parents develop lasting friendships with neighbors, too.
Another aspect setting this team apart from others is its ability to acknowledge and award those speedy swimmers on the team, while providing fun opportunities for kids with spirit and dedication to shine.
And there is no shortage of fun. Zany meet “themes,” such as dressing like you are heading out to a discotheque or dressing as a pirate for the day take place. There are social events—bowling, laser tag and mini golf—and traditions such as pep rallies, water polo, Monday Fun Days and lunches involving the entire team.
Starting with just 35 swimmers in 1994, Dorney and Swerdlow doubled their membership the very next summer. By 1996, 135 Kingfish swam for the team. Currently, the Kingfish boast 211 members.
“It obviously caught on big, and established itself as the best fun available in the neighborhood during the summer,” Swerdlow said.