Many area kids have been hitting the pool this summer for fun and relaxation, but a group of about 60 area youth have been spending their summer swim time competing as part of the Yadkin Stingrays swim team. Twin brothers Hunter and Jacob Kepley, 14, have been on the team for five years now and said swimming is a great sport because it fosters friendship and personal achievement.
Hunter Kepley said that competing against other swimmers “makes you want to strive to get better.”
“I also like the people that I get to be with on the team because they are all nice and I make a lot of friends,” Jacob Kepley added.
Debbie Kepley, Jacob and Hunter’s mom, along with Becky Beamguard, are the parent managers of the team. Kepley said the team has been around for many years and they have seen participation vary in the last few years. Last year the team had 53 members and so this year a goal was set to have 60 swimmers. The team actually had 62 participants this season.
In addition to competing in swim meets around the area, Kepley said that the team really focuses on empowering each child to do their very best. Stingrays team members range in age from 5 years old up to 18. A mentorship program was established this year where the older more experienced swimmers helped teach and encourage the younger children, Kepley said.
“That is one thing this year that we have worked on, is that the 18-year-olds get to know the 5-year-olds. They mentor the small ones, which is really nice to see,” Kepley said. “So when you watch an 18-year-old cheering for a 5-year-old and a 5-year-old cheering for an 18-year-old, it warms the heart. It’s a good experience.”
Teaching good sportsmanship and encouragement of other team members if a big part of what the Stingrays team does, Kepley said.
“We’ve also chosen this year to give out an award for the most encouraging,” she said. “Because that’s what I believe is wrong with a lot of other sports is kids’ self-esteem can really be down trodden after being on a team. They lose confidence in themselves. Swimming promotes self-esteem.”
All team members have to sign a code of conduct and are held to strict accountability on how they treat their other team members and opponents. If a team member is unkind or uses inappropriate language, they are not allowed to compete in the next meet, the Kepley twins explained.
“We expect that they respect that code of conduct,” Kepley said. “It’s not just sign it and forget about it.”
While winning a meet is certainly a goal, the Kepley twins said that swimming is also about personal improvement. At a recent meet, Jacob knew his competitor in the race was 11 seconds faster than him at the last meet. While Jacob didn’t think he had a chance to improve his time that much to beat his opponent, he was planning to strive to beat his own best time. In the end, however, Jacob came away with the win.
Kepley said that Jacob’s coach had some powerful words for him after he won about never doubting himself when he faced a challenge.
“You learned a lesson that you will carry with you the rest of your life,” she said. “I want you to remember that you thought you couldn’t do this but in the end you won and you came out on top and so anytime you face a challenge in life don’t ever think you can’t do it.”
The summer season of the Yadkin Stingrays will be wrapping up soon, but Jacob and Hunter said they will continue to swim on other area teams, including the Forbush High School swim team and they hope to compete someday in the Junior Olympics or the Olympics.
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.