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(Enlarge) Jade Hill swims with the Meade Patriots Swim Club at Gaffney Fitness Center in 2004. Registration for the Patriots' 2012 team is currently under way. The team is open to Fort Meade swimmers ages 4 to 18. (File photo)

While fall sports teams from Child, Youth and School Services will soon be taking the fields, the Meade Patriots Swim Club is heading into Gaffney Fitness Center preparing to make a splash during the upcoming season.

Registration for the swim club is under way as the team prepares to compete in the Maryland Swimming Organization.

"While the team is primarily about learning the sport and having fun, we have had swimmers compete at state- and nation-level competition," said Charles Belo, president of the Patriots.

Practices for experienced swimmers start Sept. 10. New swimmers begin shortly after, following coach assessments.

"The goal of the Meade Patriots Swim Club is to offer focused coaching and training for all levels of swimmers, from fresh out of lessons to those training for national-level competition," Belo said. "We see it as our mission to provide education, instruction and training to all members, enabling them to achieve success in the pursuit of excellence through competitive swimming."

The club, which competes in the organization that includes 38 other clubs from across the state, accepts swimmers between the ages of 4 and 18.

The only criteria for joining the team is completion of structured swim lessons or the ability to swim 25 meters in the freestyle or backstroke with proper breathing techniques.

Even inexperienced swimmers can find a spot in the club, Belo said.

"It's always great when we can get swimmers with experience," he said. "However, we definitely welcome new swimmers."

Swimmers are divided into three groups -- red, white or blue -- depending on the participants' age and skill.

The practice schedule and monthly fees vary by group. The most experienced swimmers -- the blue group -- practice five times per week for 90 minutes, while the novice swimmers -- the red group -- meet three times per week for 45 minutes.

During practices, swimmers work to improve their strokes, turns, dives and overall techniques. Belo said the weekly practices are critical to the progression in the sport and require a significant commitment from both the swimmers and the parents.

"Swimmers and parents should be mindful that coaches expect prompt attendance and focused attention," Belo said. "Pool time is very important -- both the duration of time the club is allowed to use the pool as well as the workouts the club gets in while in the pool."

Despite the intense practices, Belo said participants must maintain realistic expectations.

"Swimmer development takes time," he said. "Parents and swimmers should not expect to see instant improvement on strokes and speed."

Belo's 16-year-old son Allen, who has been swimming with the organization since he was 5 years old, said that while the Patriots don't practice as much as some other teams, the small team allows coaches to work closely with the swimmers.

"We don't really get that big, so it's kind of more like a family, and you get more one-on-one time with the coaches," the Odenton resident said.

Swimmers will attend several meets throughout the season, which runs from September to May. Belo said athletes will compete in two or three meets per month, depending on the swimmers' ages or times restrictions.

Allen said the level of competition in the Maryland Swimming Organization is high.

"There are a lot of really good kids out there who swim for the other teams," he said. "[But] we do pretty well."

While the swim club can be challenging, Belo called it an "excellent way" for youngsters to exercise and stay in shape.

"Swimming promotes discipline because of all the precise techniques required to perform every stroke, turn and dive correctly," he said. "Also, each stroke uses a specific set of muscles to move the body forward in the water, allowing for low-impact but maximum gain or results.

"Virtually every part of the swimmer's body gets exercised."

Editor's note: For more information or to register for the Meade Patriots Swim Club, call 301-677-1149 or visit eteamz.com/MeadePatriotsSwimClub.

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