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Westminster Stingrays Swim Team looks at reflection at 30th anniversary

Friendships made at the community pool can often last a lifetime. Just ask someone on the Westminster Stingrays Swim Team.

Now celebrating the team’s 30-year anniversary, team members reflected on its history and all the friendships born at the water.

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“I think it really is [about] the friendships that the swimmers on the team have developed over the years,” team coach Alex Hanson said.

The nonprofit Westminster Stingrays Swim Team began in 1989 and has grown exponentially to a team of over 150 swimmers, competing in the Central Maryland Swim League and providing a robust swim lesson program for the community.

Hanson said the team — whose home base is the Westminster Municipal Pool — is for both experienced and summer-only swimmers.

“We focus on stroke work. We do everything we can to keep it fun,” he said. “With pep rallies on Fridays, [we] get the kids cheering for each other during meets and have a buddy system to get older and younger kids cheering for one another as well.”

Team representative Morgan Muse has been a member for six years, with four years on its board of directors.

“We practice Monday through Friday, starting the day after Memorial Day, and [we] run through the end of July,” she said. “We have dual meets every Saturday and a few extra invitationals and qualifiers throughout the season. We participate In the Central Maryland Swim League, which is made of 50 teams. They have nine divisions this year and we are in Division 3.”

Muse said most of swim meets are within an hour drive. The team has hit capacity the past two years, with 30 people on the waitlist this year.

“We love that everyone wants to join in the summer fun,” Muse said. “We are always thinking of new ways to make room for more swimmers.”

Muse spoke of how they have changed over the years.

“We always laugh about the way we used to have to run the meets,” she said. “When the swim team started everything was on paper. Now we use the computer to run the meets and it tracks everything.”

For Muse, one of the best things about the team is the age range of the swimmers.

“We have 5-year-olds and 18-year-olds on the same team,” she said. “The little kids look up to the big kids, and the big kids are able to get involved with helping at practice and swim lessons. I have three kids in different age groups and it’s the one sport where all my kids can be on the same team. I also love that we have a wide range of ability. We have swimmers that can barely make it the length of the pool and one swimmer who is headed to swim at a Division 1 college in the fall.”

In 1989, Linda Kephart started the Stingray Learn to Swim Program, with three morning classes for all ages and abilities.

“The program grew to include both morning and evening classes,” Kephart recalled. “Lesson instructors were the Stingray team coaches. Interested team members were trained as lesson volunteers to assist the lead teachers. Over the years, hundreds of children participated in the program and many swim team members were trained to be instructors. The lesson program continues and is still going strong.”

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Kephart’s daughter Brianne (then a 7-year-old) joined the Westminster Stingrays in 1990, followed by her youngest daughter Kelsey in 1993 at age 5.

“Both girls swam until they graduated from high school and both became head coaches of the team during their college years,” Kephart said. “I started volunteering with the team in 1990, became an assistant coach in 1993, and took over as head coach for several summers. We were involved with the team through 2011. The team became a family activity and a fun way to spend two months of every summer. Lifelong friendships for the swimmers and parents developed over the years.”

Beth Sebian said she joined the team in 1997, just before seventh grade. Now, her children are team members.

“I started swimming because I didn’t make the travel soccer team, which had been my sport up until that point. Summer swim team quickly became the highlight of my summer.”

Sebian said many friends and teammates from her winter team also swam with the Stingrays.

“While the beginning of the season was met with our coaches pushing us into the cold water and trying to get us to stop whining, by mid-June the water had warmed up and we all were happy to hop right in and swim a fun and laid-back practice with friends,” she said. “My two younger siblings also joined the team that year, and our baby brother joined four years later at age 4.”

Today, Sebian’s children — 11-year-olds Tasia and A.J., and 9-year-old Nathan — are in their fifth season on the team.

It’s the most fun sport and I’m good at it,” Tasia said. “If [Mom] only let me choose one sport, I would choose swim team!”

A.J. agreed.

“Swim team is my favorite sport,” he said. “I like beating my best time every meet and cheering on my friends and teammates.”

Nathan chimed in, too, sharing his love of swimming.

“And the coaches and teammates are nice,” he said.

Sebian said it was important to her that her children become strong swimmers.

“I had taught them how to swim but knew the only way they would get any better was to join the swim team,” she said.

Sebian relies on the team’s experienced coaches, including Hanson and Muse.

“Since my first stint with the Stingrays, I’ve been coaching at the Hill Family (Carroll County) Y now for 10 years,” Hanson said. “Morgan coaches there as well. When I said that my daughter was interested in swimming, she wanted to bring me back as a coach. Natalie is 9, and this is her second year swimming for the team. I have another daughter, Grace, who is 6 and is in the swim lesson program. She’s planning to start swimming for the team next summer.

Hanson said teams warm up as soon as they get to the pool, progressing through each of the strokes, organized by age group.

“For instance, you’ll have 8 and under-aged kids compete, then 9-10, and so on (up to 15-18). The first events are the Individual Medley where swimmers swim one lap of each stroke — Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle. There’s an event for each of the individual strokes, and then at the end is the most exciting part, relay competitions where four kids from [each] age group compete in a freestyle relay against the other team’s swimmers.”

The team’s rich history and tradition of friendship keep members coming back.

“Every summer, I’m flooded with memories of my own years on the Stingrays,” Sebian said. “I always snap a picture of my own kids in the pool [at] the first practice and send it to my best friend from swim team, who now lives in California. Every day we pass the record board that holds lots of names of swimmers that I use to swim with, including my brother, John. This year A.J. and his teammates are trying to break the relay team record that my brother and his teammates hold right now. How cool would that be?”

And so the history continues.

“For many summers my daughters and I were at the pool either swimming, coaching and/or teaching together,” Kephart said. “Friendships for us that started with the Stingrays continue to this day.”

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