The sign in the YMCA parking lot reading "Congratulations Nicole Fye -- Zone Champion" piqued my interest as I turned off Gillionville Road into the parking lot of that facility one early August day. Being somewhat familiar with the youth swim team there, I was wondering if I read the words correctly and, if so, what the story could be.
After entering the building and talking to Jeff DeMott, coach of this team, I learned that this young athlete did indeed place in an event in Texas, and was the high point winner at the Long Course State Championships. What a remarkable accomplishment, I thought! How could she have done this? Thus, I started asking the coach some questions about this, and in the process, learned something about the team and coach himself.
Coach DeMott, who hails from Iowa and has a Masters degree in exercise physiology, began his stint with the Y-Rapids in December of 2011. Prior to that, he coached at Darton, Albany State and elsewhere, producing highly competitive teams at each stop in his 29-year career in this field.
Regarding his current job, he started out with 15 members and now has more than 50 charges. Coach DeMott and assistants Stephanie Wright and Jeannie Fye have instilled a swimming philosophy and work ethic that has propelled these young swimmers to extraordinary heights.
For each practice, Coach DeMott writes the drills on a chalkboard. This way, the team members are better able to understand what's expected of them that day. Then during practice, he announces the times for the start of the race for all four lanes of swimmers (and multiple lanes have had 7-8 swimmers in each lane. There, he announces the start time for each swimmer in intervals of 5 seconds).
For the closest two lanes (where the more advanced swimmers are), Coach DeMott calls out their splits (with a stopwatch), and voices words of encouragement as they make their return trip for each lap. Coaches Wright and Fye follow a similar routine with the other lanes.
The time between swim drills is used for teaching moments. For instance, coach DeMott has given the young swimmers pointers on how many strokes per second to take for the freestyle (1), and the proper body alignment for this stroke (straight). Coach DeMott has also explained- in three dimensional and easily understandable terms- the specifics of various strokes. He also has pointed out the consequences of an unhealthy diet. In addition to his teaching, coach takes time to explain questions during or after practice. Practice usually lasts two hours a day Monday-Friday, and 3 hours Saturday morning.
For meets, Coach DeMott has transported team members to sites within Georgia and in neighboring states on a team bus. For more distant locations, such as in Dallas for the Zone Championship, Coach DeMott has helped arrange transportation for his charges.
Among his swimmers, Nicole Fye, 13, is one standout. The competition she recently placed first in at Dallas was a three-event competition, and was a Junior National qualifier. In 2011, Fye won the 1500 meter freestyle in a Georgia state record time. She also earned an invitation to the exclusive Zone Select Camp last year, and has won many Georgia state titles swimming for the Y-Rapids.
To help one understand how she is able to produce such sizzling times, one needs to realize the dedication she has to the sport. This past summer, for instance, Fye practiced 2-3 times a day, six days a week, for a total of 5.5 hours a day. (This 6th grader is also an exceptional student, as she has maintained a perfect GPA. In addition, Fye has already taken the SAT.)
Another standout is Maggie Davis. She won the 11-12 1000 freestyle for her age at the 2012 Georgia Short Course Championship. She was also ranked as a top ten USA swimmers in the 200 butterfly. Her mother transports Maggie and her brother from Thomasville to Albany twice a day for Coach DeMott's swim practices.
Among the other swimmers is Trey Hardison. This young man (a senior at Lee County High School) is the top swimmer for his school team, has placed in various high school competitions, is an honor student, and an Eagle Scout. He has applied to the Coast Guard Academy, where he hopes to swim. He also works at the YMCA as a lifeguard.
For more information about the Y-Rapids, call the YMCA at (229) 436-0531 and speak to Coach DeMott, Wright, or Fye.
Tom Connelly is a resident of Albany.