By Matt Hill
Following the most successful Elizabethton High School Swim season in recent memory, head coach Justin Conway wants to keep the momentum going — and he’s on the right track with a new swim club.
The Elizabethton Barracudas begin swimming this year, and the Northeast Tennessee Boys Coach of the Year is excited to get people into swimming in Elizabethton and even among county school students.
“Throughout the season we kept communication with Science Hill coach Chris Corragio, and he coaches Science Hill’s Barracudas swim club. And he asked me if I would be interested in coaching an Elizabethton branch of the Barracuda swim club, and I said ‘very much so,’ This summer team is going to be called the Elizabethon Barracudas and it’s going to be an extension of the Johnson City and Kingsport Barracudas programs,” Conway said.
“Our ultimate goal is to get youngsters involved in swimming throughout Carter County. This program is open for people just young enough to swim all the way up to senior citizens. We’re going to start this swim team in what we call the blue swimmer category who are new at the art of swimming so the practices and meets will be geared toward advancing to their level of swimming.”
Conway wants to get the people of Carter County excited about swimming, and wants to build a foundation for the people.
“What we desire from this summer swim program is to target this toward youth so that when they come up to Elizabethton High School, they will join the swim team and have some background in swimming,” Conway said. “Many of the regional champions or state champions, you don’t see many of them who haven’t swam in a summer league team like this. Normally to be a great swimmer you have to swim year round.”
Conway is able to be more involved with the swim program in the summer than some of the other coaches at Elizabethton High School thanks to swimming not being sanctioned by the TSSAA. Swimming is the only sport at EHS not under the TSSAA jurisdiction.
This allows him to promote the sport and get the community involved.
“What we want to do with the young kids in Elizabethton and Carter County is to teach them about swimming so they can fall in love with it as much as I have and as much as the swimmers at Elizabethton High School have,” Conway said.
Counting the USA swimming registration fee, the first month’s fee is $123 and it’s $61 the rest of the time.
“You’re not going to find any better deal than this,” Conway said. “This is an eight-week program that is going to be fun and exciting, and the kids will never forget it.”
Most of the meets are on Tuesday nights, except for the championship meet on July 28.
“The kids are not required to go to every single swim meet, but you have to go to two to be eligible for the championship meet,” Conway said. “That will be very exciting. Some of the meets are going to be outdoors, some of them are going to be in big aquatic centers like at Dobyns-Bennett High School and Science Hill High School. At Elizabethton we’re going to be able to host two of these meets, and the furthest we have to travel is Kingsport, so when you consider gas prices the way they are, we’re not going to be traveling that far compared to some of the traveling baseball teams. Everything is in the Tri-Cities.
You can reach Coach Conway for more information at (423) 342-7493 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Conway has plenty of brochures and you can go online at www.barracudaswimclub.org. and look up the ETSSL (East Tennessee Summer Swim League) link.
CYCLONE SWIMMING EARNING PRAISE FROM ALL OVER THE AREA
Conway was named boys coach of the year by the area swim coaches in the region this year, and EHS finished fourth in the team standings at the region meet behind big three schools: Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High.
It didn’t start off very easily for Conway, who had to rebuild a program that hadn’t had much success since Jonelle Johnson coached about a decade ago.
Conway had to connect with the kids, and this graduate student did just that and was able to help them reach their full potential.
“I felt at first I was diving into the deep end, no pun intended,” Conway said. “I thought I was in over my head, but what I found was a great support group at the high school with EHS Athletic Director Mike Wilson and the other coaches who have helped me along the way, and I also found a group of kids that were dedicated and willing to work hard and follow my guidance. It was a great blessing on my life to work with these kids this last year. The program had struggled in recent years to garner interest. It had several different coaches throughout several different years, but what it did have was great swimmers. All these kids needed to do was to be encouraged, to be led and to be excited and they took care of the rest.”
During the first couple of meets, the Cyclones struggled, but by the Dobyns-Bennett meet in December the improvement really began to show and by the Region Meet the Cyclones were among the cream of the crop with the big three.
“The local coaches voted me Boys Coach of the Year, and some of these schools included Greeneville, Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill and Sullivan South,” Conway said. “These are big high schools and they saw something in Elizabethton High School that made them take notice. Although they gave me the award, the award belongs to the whole team because they put in the work in the pool and worked hard and together we accomplished great things at Elizabethton High School this season.”