With ‘Great Pain,’ Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association Cancels Summer Season

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Coaches at the Charleston City Championship meet in 2018. Photo Courtesy: Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association

When Megan Kingsley moved to South Carolina, with her reputation as a swimmer, it wasn’t long before someone brought up the Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association.

Kingsley, who grew up in North Carolina, had done year-round club swimming. Summer league at a neighborhood club wasn’t an option. But when she moved to Mount Pleasant, she was quickly introduced to the vibrant summer swimming culture in the greater Charleston area.

“I was blown away, because it was never like that growing up in North Carolina, even when I lived in Myrtle Beach for a while,” Kingsley said Wednesday. “The Charleston area is definitely very different. I remember when I did swim for one year, I could not believe how fast it was. There were a lot of year-round swimmers, it was really competitive and a ton of really talented non-year-round athletes, and that was also really impressive.

“The competitive spirit was just insane. There was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people at this meet. Other than Olympic Trials, I haven’t been to a meet that big before. It was overwhelming and so crazy.”

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Megan Kingsley at the University of Georgia. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For thousands of swimmers in South Carolina’s low country, the Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association (CCAA) has been a summer staple. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league this week voted to cancel its summer dual-meet season and the culminating City Championship, a painful but expected decision.

The CCAA board of directors met last week and recommended cancellation. A vote of team representatives was 19-1 in favor of cancelling meets, including the city meet in July that annually features more than 1,000 swimmers.

Erik Kreutner, a CCAA board member and its former vice president, cited guidance from the South Carolina local swimming committee that when meets do resume from the COVID-19 hiatus, they should be limited to no more than 50 members. In a league whose 20 teams have an average of 150 swimmers each, conducting competitions was unthinkable.

“To imagine having a meet with 300 kids and however many parents are there in the pools the size we have, we just can’t imagine that happening,” Kreutner said.

The decision leaves open the possibility of clubs opening, in accordance with state and public health guidelines, so that kids can get some semblance of a summer in the pool. Kreutner said many league members are unsure if they’ll be able to open at all this summer. And competition in the vein of past years is off the table.

“We knew it was going to disappoint a lot of people because a lot of people have been saying, ‘this is one thing that we’ve been looking forward to this summer, please have it. It’s outside, this is just going to be a great thing if you can brighten our days by having it this summer,’” Kreutner said. “And we decided it was not the responsible thing to do in the interests of our swimmers’ health, our parents’ health and the health of our community.”

‘It’s a huge deal in this area’

Charleston’s summer swimming scene is unique. The 50-year-old CCAA is comprised of 20 teams, the kind of whimsically and alliteratively named squads you’d expect from a summer league (the Shadowmoss Sharks, the Ashborough Alligators). The clubs’ facilities range from pools with four lanes to eight, pools in meters and yards, from country clubs to neighborhood hideaways.

The communities each club fostered make summer swimming in Charleston so memorable. And that’s even before factoring in the high level of competition.

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Before the start at the Charleston City Championship in 2019 Photo Courtesy: Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association

Kingsley, a six-time All-American at the University of Georgia who is now a pro, spent one year as a coach in the league and one as a swimmer, both at Daniel Island (the Flying Fish, for the record). She recalls thrilling races against Micah Bohon, who became a close friend and swam at the University of Tennessee. Even if summer swimming was looked down on and lightly forbidden by year-round club coaches, it was something Kingsley wanted to be a part of.

The CCAA’s impact on Jackson Seith is even more profound.

“For me, summer league was the only swimming until I was around 14 years old,” Seith said. “I started at around 6. It’s a huge deal in this area. … If I didn’t have summer league swimming, I wouldn’t be swimming today.”

Today, Seith is a rising senior at Florida State. He holds a U.S. Olympic Trials cut in the 100 breaststroke. It’s a long way from being a six-year-old Pine Forest Porpoise. He eventually swapped clubs to Coosaw Creek (the Crocodiles) where his cousins swam. He’d have aunts, uncles and grandparents attend meets, fans in their deck chairs lined up three and four rows deep. Before year-round club swimming was an option, the summer pool is where he grew his love for the sport.

Part of the disappointment for Kreutner was that this year’s City Championship was to be held at an indoor facility, the new eight-lane North Charleston/Dorchester District 2 Aquatic Center. It would’ve been just the third time that the City Championships were held in a pool larger than six lanes.

‘Complicating factors’

Now more than ever, as stay-at-home orders stretch from weeks to months, the prospect of getting outside is ever more seductive. For hundreds of family in Charleston, the epitome of summer is a day whiled away at a neighborhood pool.

It’s possible that some version of that could yet happen for members of Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association pools. But the competition won’t. So many of the elements – the camaraderie, the families, the community – that make CCAA swimming too special are what make it so perilous.

Here’s how Kreutner put it:

“A lot of what makes summer swimming special is not going to be the responsible thing to do in an age of social distancing. Seeing a team of 100 kids huddle together between events, kids that may go to different schools, kids that are different ages but just enjoy that social aspect of summer swimming, it did not seem the right thing to do to be putting the kids in that situation where they’re going to have a hard time not participating in that aspect of things. And the same thing for the parents. One thing that has always been so special about summer swimming is that families can participate in it for so long. You’ve got Ms. Smith and Ms. Jones who sit next to each other at summer swim meets for 15 or 20 years in a row. That parent aspect of the social thing was going to be difficult to reconcile too.”

Both Seith and Kingsley shudder to think what kids are going through right now. Even if it is objectively the right decision, they know how they’d feel if they were in current youth swimmers’ shoes.

“I would’ve been really bummed if I was their age,” Kingsley said. “It would’ve been pretty hard for me. You couldn’t keep me out of the pool. I could have practice in the afternoon but I would still want to go to my neighborhood pool and swim or just splash around and be outside. I’m sure families especially are wondering what to do with their kids, how to keep them involved, how to keep them social, because kids at that age, they miss their friends. They need each other, and that’s the learning process of growing up.”

“I know as a kid I definitely would’ve hated it,” Seith said. “You don’t understand, especially as younger kids. I’m sure a lot of them don’t pay attention to the news. When I was eight, nine, 10 years old, I didn’t care, I just wanted to swim. And I know it’s probably tough for a lot of them to not have the summer of swimming. But in the end, it’ll be worth it if everyone stays healthy. I’m sure as a kid, it would’ve been hard for me to understand.”


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12 comments

  1. Jeff Sutton

    This is not new. Many LSC are doing this but swimming to live on is a different format. Just not the traditional LCS season.

  2. avatar
    Rene

    Summer league in the Charleston area is a huge deal. My son swam three days a week year round just to be ready for the 6 week summer season. It is the most fun these kids have while swimming. It’s a very sad time here, especially for the seniors. This isn’t USA swimming. It’s fun. It’s neighborhood pride. It’s kids from three different clubs swimming for the same relay on their neighborhood team. It’s friendships with the kids and parents. It’s the little kids looking up to the big kids like Micah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jackson and Megan and those big kids taking the little ones under their wing and cheering them on. Yes, it’s 6-7 weeks. But to some of these kids, it’s everything. Sad for them. But, these are trying times.

    • avatar
      Dana

      So sad to me! My Senior has been with this league since he was 7. Summer in the Lowcountry won’t be the same without summer swim meets.
      Thanks Swimming World for recognizing The Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association as something very special!

  3. avatar
    Brenda Rindge

    Matthew De George, you pretty accurately captured the atmosphere of our summer league. I’ve been involved 22 years (since the oldest of my four kids was 6) and have been on the board 15 years. Canceling the season was a heartbreaking decision for us, but we felt it was in the best interest of our swim family. Two corrections: We were to have 22 teams this summer; and the soon-to-be-opened North Charleston Aquatic Center has a competition pool that is 10 lanes x 50 meters, or with the two bulkheads in the middle, two 10-lane x 25-yard pools. It also has an 8-lane x 25-yard therapy pool. (I am one of three employees who will work there full-time.)

    • Chris Boulware

      Russ Bernal ..hard to social distance in any way when most teams have 4-6 kids swimming in a lane during practice.

      Sucks as we are a swim family…

    • avatar
      Chris Accetta

      With DHEC restrictions it would be impossible for our teams to practice let alone have a meaningful meet. Ridiculous is the willingness to put others at risk. As the longest serving league president (16 seasons) it was heartbreaking to make this recommendation to the league. A 19-1 vote by the teams and their league representatives to accept the recommendation suggests that we all accept the need for safety over the competition being lost.

  4. avatar
    John Lupton

    My experience has been that year round clubs are “lightly forbidden” by some summer league teams during their season. As someone who’s coached year round and summer league for many years, I wonder why it was important to portray club coaches as anti summer league in this article?

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