Photo | Courtesy City of Mobile Swim Association
The City of Mobile Swim Association (CMSA) has been making a splash on the regional scene since the 1970s. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the group just like many other athletic organizations.
In an attempt to make up for monies lost and additional expenses incurred because of the novel coronavirus, CMSA is hosting fundraising events this week. Activities began with a swim-a-thon and will conclude this Saturday with an online auction.
“We are responsible for driving competition swimming in a forward direction,” Tyler Kerns, who coaches CMSA swimmers ages 14 and under, told Lagniappe. “These events are a way for our families to reach out to friends, businesses and community groups to garner support for our program.”
According to CMSA, it is a nonprofit organization that relies on athletes’ fees as well as other fundraising opportunities like hosting local swim meets. The pandemic has led to the cancellation of many events that bring in additional income. CMSA also paid unexpected rental expenses to use various swimming pools across Mobile while they were briefly displaced from their home base pools at Bishop State Community College.
“The swim-a-thon is unique but similar to when students used to get so much money for walking a lap,” said Kerns, who is also the head swim coach at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile. “Our athletes are given a two-hour time period. They try and swim a certain amount of laps.
“We have other people who just do flat donations. Then we have parent volunteer Melissa Overstreet working our online auction which has some really great items for people to bid on.”
For more information on the fundraising, visit 32auctions.com/CMSAOnlineAuction2020, call 251-658-8378 or send an email to email@example.com.
The CMSA story
Kerns said while all of the summer clubs in Mobile work independently of one another, CMSA is a year-round swim team.
“We offer competitive options for young people ages 6 to 18,” he said. “Our highest-end kids prepare to compete in college.”
Kyle Cormier, who coaches CMSA swimmers ages 15 to 18, is working with some highly skilled participants. Senior Lucy O’Neill will be competing for Auburn University next year, while junior Andrew Jordan has also committed to swim for the Tigers.
“My brother, Spencer, swam at Auburn,” Kerns said. “We have had quite a few athletes go to Auburn.”
Kerns said CMSA has produced more than 50 NCAA Division I swimmers. Among the most acclaimed is the University of Virginia’s Paige Madden, who has a shot at making the next U.S. Olympic team.
“In my 15 years, we have not had an athlete want to swim in college and we could not find them a place,” Kerns said.
In the 2016 Olympic trials, CMSA had seven alumni take part.
“Someone our size would have been happy with one swimmer,” said Kerns, who added there were no trials in 2020.
He said at one point, CMSA had swimmers competing at LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama and South Carolina. The club has produced several NCAA champions.
CMSA was recently named a Bronze Medal Club and ranks in the top four in the Southern Zone of the Local Swimming Committees. The CMSA Age Group team coached by Kerns ranks in the top 100 out of 3,000 USA Swimming teams across the nation.
Dealing with COVID-19
Kerns said it has been a challenge keeping CMSA swimmers and coaches safe during the pandemic.
“We were able to get back to swimming outdoors in May,” he said. “We have practiced social distancing and instituted expensive COVID protocols to keep the kids in the water.
“We check temps every time you come in. We ask all of the COVID questions every day. We wear a mask when you are not in the water.”
The hard work has paid off.
“We were able to host a swim meet recently,” he said. “It was one of the only ones in the country. It was great seeing the smiles on all of the faces.”
CMSA has had to make drastic changes to its training schedule.
“We have one athlete per lane, when we usually go six to eight per lane,” Kerns said. “Instead of coaching two to three hours, it is now five to six hours a day.”
Like many other organizations, CMSA is also using virtual meetings to keep athletes engaged.
“We have used Zoom to keep organized and do so some strength and conditioning,” Kerns said. “The highlight was when we had [Olympic and World sprint champion] Justin Gatlin talk with the team for about 45 minutes on what it takes to be successful. We got him because Kyle’s father was Gatlin’s high school track coach.”
Planning for the future
Raising funds is vital to keeping CMSA going this year, but the proceeds will also support projects down the road.
“We host all the summer league champs meets,” Kerns said. “We have about 750 to 1,000 in that group. It can get very crowded at the Bishop State facility.
“We are fortunate to have Bishop State as a home base, but it was built in 1978 and needs some improvements. We hope to use some of these funds to improve the facility. We also want to work with the city and county to get behind the effort to renovate and improve.
“We compete against Pensacola and Biloxi, which have great facilities, while Huntsville just opened a $24 million complex. The thing is we are still competitive with them. We may not have the best facility, but we take pride in competing at a high level.”
While Kerns had a brother and sister swim in college, he played baseball for the University of South Alabama after having been a competitive swimmer in high school.
“I’m the guy who tries to build them up and prepare them for the path down the road,” Kerns said. “I fell in love with coaching this sport. There is nothing better than seeing someone hit the wall [after a race] and be surprised to see their time.
“All the COVID stuff has been hard and challenging, but it is certainly worth it to see kids excel and get better.”
To learn more about the Mobile program, visit swimcmsa.com.
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