Most summer sports mean sweating under the sweltering sunshine. But that isn't the case for the Pine Bluff Sharks swim team, which has been around for many years and is now under the leadership of Head Coach Troy DeBill. Their home base is the Pine Bluff Country Club's swimming pool.
The Sharks were previously managed by the Duke family until they decided to hand the keys to the pool over to DeBill. DeBill has a couple assistant coaches whom she says play a major role in the team's success: Christina Beger and Claire Talbot.
"I've been coaching for six years," DeBill said. "I'm from New York, I swam in high school and I love the sport. I taught the Dukes' son Will at Watson Chapel Junior High and he swam on the team. I became an assistant, now I'm the coach, and my assistant coaches are former Sharks. Claire Talbot is a former shark and a lifeguard here, and Christina Beger is my other assistant and she currently swims at Ouachita Baptist University."
The age for Shark swimmers ranges from 6 to 18, but they're grouped by skill, not age. The Sharks hold their practices four days out of the week during the summer. Practices are held at the Pine Bluff Country Club, and they will transfer to the new Pine Bluff Aquatics Center when it is finished next summer. Each lane in the pool represents how advanced a swimmer is, and the ultimate goal is to make it to lane five.
"They advance their way up to lane five, and that's for our most advanced swimmers," DeBill said. "With them, we fine-tune their strokes and they swim much greater distances."
The Sharks compete in the Southern Arkansas Swimming Association (SASA), and meets are held at various locations every Saturday throughout the summer. Out of the 150 kids at each meet, the Sharks are represented by 15-20 swimmers. The Sharks may not be one of the deepest teams as far as their number of kids, but they're one of the most competitive. The Sharks have placed in the top two overall in the past few championships meets.
"Every Saturday in the summer we compete in the SASA league," DeBill said. "It's all over Southern Arkansas, and this year we've competed at Monticello, Warren, at OBU. In the past, we've competed at different places like Magnolia and Crossett. Every Saturday we get up bright and early, hit the road, and compete.
"Usually there's about 150 kids at every meet and we do fairly well. We're in the small team division because we only have about 15-20 swimmers on our team. There are other teams that are much larger, but although we have a smaller team we work really hard. The kids work hard, and they're able to compete at a really high level. At our SASA championships, we've placed first or second in the past three years."
The SASA championships are set to be held in Monticello this year from July 21-22. DeBill is expecting another banner year at the championships as the Sharks are very familiar with the Monticello pool.
"We've competed twice there this year already," DeBill said. "We were there last weekend and our very first competition was there. We're excited to go to Monticello, and they always host a great meet. We're very familiar with the pool, and all the teams are really great. All the coaches know each other and it's really family oriented. It's a great atmosphere for the swimmers."
As for her athletes, DeBill said she doesn't have to second guess their dedication at all. It's evident from the work they put in that they have a love for the sport.
"They wouldn't swim this many meters a day if they weren't passionate," DeBill said. "We practice a lot. We practice two hours a day four days a week. They swim thousands of links of the pool in a summer. They swim between one and two miles a day and they're very dedicated."
In the future, DeBill expects the Pine Bluff Sharks to expand and move to a bigger division in the SASA. Next summer's opening of the state-of-the-art Pine Bluff Aquatics Center, which will be located by the Pine Bluff Convention Center, should be beneficial when it comes to the team's growth, she said.
The Pine Bluff Aquatics Center will feature an eight-lane, 25-yard competition pool, a leisure pool with a waterslide, along with other amenities such as a water cannon, volleyball, water basketball and play structures.
"We're excited to be Pine Bluff's team," DeBill said.
"We're really hoping the team can grow once we get in a bigger facility. We'll be able to practice year-round. We welcome swimmers from all over Jefferson County. We have swimmers from every school district but our main goal with the new aquatic center is to grow our team. This is a sport that doesn't require a lot of equipment and it's a lifelong skill that can keep you healthy for the rest of your life. If you start out young these skills can carry you into adulthood and beyond."