YMCA Cannonballs team eases swimmers into competition

Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Vicksburg’s least competitive competitive swim team is back for another year.

The YMCA Cannonballs started their brief summer season last week with several practices at the Wilkinson Verbeck YMCA on Oak Ridge Road.

The program was started in 2021 as an introduction to competitive swimming for children ages 5-18. It’s a few steps up from basic lessons, but not as intense as a year-round club team, head coach Wilson Carroll said.

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“We limit our meets to three hours. Start at 3 and end at 6 so you can be home for dinner,” Carroll said. “There’s not a lot of pressure on these kids. As they get older and more competitive, then they get real serious.”

The Cannonballs practice for about an hour each weekday morning at the Verbeck YMCA, from 8 to 9 a.m. The program runs from late May to early July and is open to Vicksburg YMCA members.

Parents interested in getting their children involved with the Cannonballs can simply show up to a practice with their children ready to swim, or call the Vicksburg YMCA at 601-638-1071 for more information.

The Cannonballs’ meets are on Thursday afternoons against teams from the Jackson Swim Association. The JSA has programs similar to the Cannonballs, with swimmers from neighborhood pools around the Jackson Metro area.

Carroll stressed that his team is a companion, and not a rival, to the more competitive Vicksburg Swim Association club team.

“Every neighborhood pool in Jackson has a team and we swim for about six weeks every summer,” Carroll said. “It’s an introductory team. The hope is some of these kids will catch the bug and want to swim for other teams.”

About 15 children turned out for the Cannonballs’ first practice last week, and Carroll said he was hoping to wind up with 30 to 35 on the roster. About three-fourths of those at the first practice were returning swimmers.

“We had it last summer but we had very few people,” said Cannonballs swimmer Lucas Roberts, who is returning for his third summer with the team. “I’m very thankful this year we have a whole bunch. You have kids that you can help out.”

Carroll said the roster is a mix of swimmers from all backgrounds and ability levels. The only requirements are to be YMCA members and to be able to swim one lap of the pool.

Four experienced competitive swimmers and certified lifeguards serve as the coaches — Leah Larson, Luke Larson, Campbell McCoy and Layne Sparks — with Wilson overseeing them.

“It’s so good to see families back. It’s a great way to end the school year,” Carroll said. “Kids that don’t go to school together come out here to swim and it’s like a family reunion. It’s a way of building community. The social aspect of this is really important to us.”

The Cannonballs will compete in five meets during the six-week season. The first is Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Verbeck YMCA, which has gotten a big upgrade over the past couple of years.

New starting blocks are in place. Some were purchased by the YMCA and some were donated by local businessman Steve Golding. The owner of Golding Barge Lines had his work crews fabricate several of the metal blocks.

Secondhand lane lines were procured from McComb at a discount. More than cosmetic features, those items are necessary to host a meet.

“The YMCA has been incredible in its support of this program by giving us access to the pool and the resources we need,” Carroll said. “A lot of it is hustling up materials where we can, and people like Steve Golding who have been very generous donating to us.”

• The YMCA Cannonballs are a youth swim program that is designed to introduce children ages 5-18 to the competitive side of the sport. Practices are from 8 to 9 a.m. weekday mornings at the Wilkinson Verbeck YMCA on Oak Ridge Road.
• Swimmers must be YMCA members. For more information, call the Vicksburg YMCA at 601-638-1071.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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