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Swimming Spiders give back to community

Published: October 21, 2010, 12:19 am ET
Hans Li/The Collegian
Freshman Laura Jordan talks to her tutee to help her get rid of her fear of getting into water.
Collegian Staff

In the midst of training for a meet and hosting recruits, the University of Richmond women’s swim team has found time to connect with the community.

On Oct. 15, the team hosted about 25 children from the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond (YLFR) for a swim clinic teaching the children, ranging from kindergarten to elementary school-age, basic swim lessons.

The Youth Life program, founded by Richmond alum Heather Goodlett in 2002, hosts after-school and summer programs to develop leaders by making investments in children from at-risk neighborhoods at an early age, according to the Youth Life website.

Once a month, the children are bused in from the Highland Park neighborhood of Richmond in a program called “Fun Fridays.” If the children behave well at school, they are rewarded by going on an after-school field trip every Friday, said Highland Park Program Director James Fifield.

“Last time, one of the kids came up to me and said, ‘I’m so excited. I was so good in school this week so I could come here,’” diving coach Erika Matheis said. “They really look forward to it.”

This was their second trip to the university this year, and the program is scheduled to continue through the end of the year.

“It’s a lot of fun,” sophomore Lauren Hines said. “I really enjoy it because with swimming, sometimes it’s really hard to get out into the Richmond community to participate in events. So I feel like this is a great opportunity for us to reach out to them and learn about them.”

Head coach Matt Barany, along with assistant coach Danielle Tansel, have been trying to plan clinics for the past three or four years, but it wasn’t until Matheis, who joined Richmond in January 2010, connected with the Center for Civic Engagement, that the clinics became a monthly program.

“There is value to going into the classroom and getting an education that way,” Barany said, “but there’s more value, I find, in taking healthy, talented young women, who are capable of being role models for these kids, and having them teach our sport.”

The clinics are structured so that the children learn pool rules, how to blow bubbles and basic locomotive skills for the first half hour, then play the second half hour, Barany said.

“You will see the progression that happens,” Matheis said. “They go from being scared to get into the water, then get into the shallow end, and transition into the deep end by the end of the clinic.”

Each child is paired with the same student athlete each time so trust and friendship are built. By the end of the clinic, some of the children from YLFR were proudly showing off their diving skills to their Richmond coach, who waded in the water to catch them.

“If you’re talented and have something to offer, the reality is you give something to someone, but you’re getting much more back,” Barany said. “For these guys it’s that civic-minded learning that is important to us.”

Contact staff writer Julia Crandell at julia.crandell@richmond.edu

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