There’s a saying the more things change, the more they stay the same.
There are several parents, who now have children swimming for the Elkin Wet Lightning Swim Team, who swam themselves for the Elkin Summer Swim Team as it was named then.
What hasn’t changed is the coaching of Oz Prim. He was there as the team was born in 1985 and when it began competing as the Elkin Summer Swim Team (ESST) in 1986.
The social nature of the team hasn’t changed either. The program brings in a number of kids from outside the Elkin area. They often don’t see each other again until the following summer.
“The numbers are probably different,” Prim said. “We’re constantly around 100 kids now. High numbers. High quality. The level of swimming has really improved.
“But I don’t think it’s changed that much. Parent involvement has been strong. Even when we first started we had good numbers.
People still want to be appreciated, respected and encouraged.”
“The kids are better,” ESST alumnus Levi Shore said. “A lot more kids are doing year-round swimming.
“But I think there’s more similarities than differences. Elkin has had a long tradition of swimming. When the kids get started swimming, they tend to stick with it.”
Shore’s son, Silas, now swims for the Wet Lightning and one thing that has remained constant is a streak of competitiveness — at least in the Shore family.
“I would get upset if I didn’t do well,” he said. “Now I’m on the other side of it.”
Shore said over time, he became a better swimmer. “I improved dramatically,” Shore said. “I wasn’t the best swimmer out there, but I always enjoyed it.”
When it came time for Silas, now 7, to practice and compete with the team, Shore said the answer was yes.
“I asked him if he wanted to do it,” Shore said. “He has always liked the water. We kind of talked to him about it. So far, he has enjoyed it
“He enjoys making friends on the team,” Shore said. “Being in his second year, he’s starting to see himself improve. He will encourage me to go to the pool with him. He’s a little more bought in than last year.
“For me, it’s just a great place for kids to get a really great start in competitive swimming,” Shore continued. “They’re going to make some friends. They’re going to get physically stronger. It’s a great outlet.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the coach. “Both of our first swim coaches were Oz,” Shore said. “Having him around the program helps keep the program strong and consistent.”
‘A second dad to most people’
Tiffany (MacDonald) Reece and her sister Sybil (MacDonald) Myers swam for the first Elkin Summer Swim Team and both later coached it for several years. Reece was 13 when her family relocated to the area from Michigan and 14 when she started swimming for the first edition of ESST. She had never swam competitively before.
Her daughter, 14-year-old Rebecca, started swimming for the Wet Lightning in 1999 as a “6- or 7-year-old.” Her son Andrew swam for the team until 2010.
Reece’s experiences with the two have been different. “Andrew started swimming early,” she said. “When she started swimming, it took her a little longer.”
She said she coached in the early ’90s, but “Oz has always been the main coach. It’s Oz’s team. Without Oz it would be difficult.
“He’s like a second dad to most people,” she said, adding, “all the coaches have done a wonderful job.”
Reece said the program serves much the same purpose today as it did when she swam for the team 28 years ago. “It’s like a family,” Reece said. “They swim every day. They have a structured activity.
“That’s kind of how it was for me. I liked competing, but it’s kind of a light competition.”
Reece said there is one thing that has certainly changed. “The skill level is so much better,” she said. “I was probably pretty good back then. Now I’d be one of the slowest swimmers in the pool.”
After being involved with the team for all but three of its 29 years as either a swimmer, a coach, or a parent, Reece said she isn’t ready to consider her summer life after Rebecca finishes swimming.
“I haven’t really thought about it yet,” Reece said. “It would be weird not to be a part of the team.”
Myers, who said she began swimming when she was “8 or 9” in 1986, has two children on the team: Jake, 11, and Robert, 9. “The kids love it,” she said. And she may have one more on the team soon: Breanna, now 4.
“We love it,” she said. “We love Oz. We love having Emily (Morrison) coaching them.
“You see people you only see in the summer. The kids are all kind of mixing together. It’s like an extended family.”
Myers said there have been significant changes since she competed for the ESST. “I can’t get over how kids have to have goggles to swim,” she said. “And we used to dive in the shallow end to start.
“But what’s really changed for me is when I swam, we swam a whole different way. I’ve had to keep updated on different strokes. You see it in the times. It would be laughable to see what our record times were.”
Prim’s presence has been one thing, she said, that hasn’t changed. “He has been the constant and he hasn’t changed in 30 years,” she said. “He has a certain spirit that he still brings.”
The idea of family and the spirit of the team is much the same as well. “The family structure with the parents and the kids — that whole family feeling is still the same.
“The whole spirit behind it. They have a good time.”
Just like it did so many years ago. “It was a big part of my summer,” Myers said.
‘Like a big family reunion’
Jonathan Snyder, now a doctor, swam for the Elkin Summer Swim Team from 1986 to 1997. He was also an assistant coach for the team while in college. His son, Webb Snyder, just completed his first year of swimming for the Wet Lightning.
“It’s been a big part of our lives for a lot of years,” Dr. Snyder said, adding Webb, 6, “loves it. “He had a meet on a Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, he’d want to know if there was another meet.”
When asked how good he was when he performed for the ESST, Snyder laughed. “Better than average,” he said. “But I was not the fastest kid in school.
“Oz pushed me to be a better swimmer. I think that’s one of the keys to the program to develop potential in swimmers. You’re able to develop as an individual and as a team.”
Prim is one of the reasons, Snyder said, the program has stayed much the same as it did in the late ’80s. “Oz had been the foundation and the cornerstone of that program,” he said. “Oz’s personality and the dedication of the parents. It’s long hours on hot days.”
The program readily provides role models for younger swimmers; the tools to develop one’s work ethic; and an atmosphere akin to family interaction, Snyder said.
“It’s like a big family reunion,” Snyder said. “Kids from other schools, coaches; people who have been involved in it for 20 years. You meet new cousins every summer.”
Snyder said Webb reminds him of himself when he swam in Elkin in the summer. “It was some of my first exposure to competition,” he said. “I’m seeing him go through the process; learning what a swim meet is all about.”
There was little doubt Webb would be swimming with the Wet Lightning, Snyder said, adding the Freemans and the Duncans “really wanted to get Webb involved. They kept asking him, ‘When are you going to start swimming?’ I wanted him to be comfortable getting in and out of the water.”
Snyder said the coaches and the older swimmers have been instrumental in Webb’s development — just like the coaches and older swimmers 20 years ago.
“They really know how to keep the younger swimmers motivated,” he said. “It has to be fun. It’s not just about competition. It’s a lot of big brothers and sisters.
“Palmer Duncan spent a lot of time — one whole morning — teaching him to dive. A 16-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 10-year-old are teaching him the things they have learned.”
There is a palpable family-like atmosphere to the meets. There are children swimming; preparing to swim; socializing. Parents are coordinating; keeping up with children — some their own, some not; taking pictures. Prim is exhorting the swimmers; smiling; laughing.
“I enjoy the heck out of it and I hope it shows,” Prim said. “It hurts me every summer when it’s over.
“I just hope that the kids had a dadgum good time.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-258-4052 or Twitter @elkinareasports.