Competitive Swim Team Teaches More Than Just Swimming.

by | Aug 2023

WHILE IT may not get as much recognition as baseball, football, or basketball, the Manchester Makos swim team has continued to blow their competition out of the water year after year. They’ve won the Race League Summer Championships every year since 2014, and this year every athlete going to state in high school swim was on the Makos team as well.

The Makos team doesn’t just do competitive swimming — takes swimmers from 4-18 years old, so simply learning to swim is a big part of the program. Head coach Shawn Daniels said the skill is important for more than just the sport of competitive swimming.

“Learning how to swim opens up so many doors as far as recreation goes, you know — water skiing and scuba diving and surfing,” Daniels said. “And it’s a lifelong sport. It’s not a sport where you stop as soon as you’re at a certain age. You can do this for the rest of your life.”

Daniels said Manchester is a ball sports town, but not everyone is good at that sort of thing.

“Our team has been a great place for those kids,” Daniels said, “Maybe they don’t have the great hand-eye coordination that it requires to be good at those sports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a good swimmer.” 

Several Makos swimmers ranked in the top three in the Southeast, and others received scholarships to swim in college. Members Ryan Brown and Isaac Lee were recently selected to swim on the Southeastern Open Water Team as the number one selectees in Tennessee, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. 

Photos submitted by Chesleigh Lee.

“We’ve got some outstanding athletes that have come out of this small area,” Daniels said. 

The swimmers on the team aren’t confined to only Coffee County. They come from all over Southern Middle Tennessee. Club President Chesleigh Lee said it allows the team to get a lot of talent. 

“We’ve had swimmers from McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Franklin County, Tullahoma, and Manchester,” Lee said. “I think it makes the team more dynamic, really, and it draws a lot of different kids from a lot of different backgrounds.” 

Being a Mako isn’t easy, especially if you want to swim competitively. The team trains almost year-round, only taking off in August. Chesleigh Lee said it takes being willing to do things that others aren’t willing to do, even if that means getting up at 5 a.m. to swim. 

“Swimming is an incredibly difficult sport,” Lee said. “It’s a lot of resistance and a lot of breath training. It’s hard, and that’s why a lot of other coaches put their athletes in the pool during the off-season. Because they’re going to get better.” 

Photos submitted by Chesleigh Lee.

Still, Lee said sometimes kids work hard and don’t win or get any recognition, which is a life lesson, too. The only thing that matters in competitive swimming is who touches the wall first. 

“It’s all objective. You get in that water, and the water treats everybody the same.” Lee said. “When colleges come to look at your kid, it’s not that a coach plays somebody a longer amount of time; they don’t care. It’s whoever touches the wall first. And if you’re fast, and if you have talent, and you touch that wall first, you win, and you could be the poorest kid on the team, and it doesn’t matter.” 

Daniels has been coaching the Makos for nearly 15 years and said her favorite part has been the swimmers and families she has gotten to meet and work with.

“When you’re talking about 100 kids, that’s a lot of family members in the community. So we have all those people coming forward and watching their children, grandchildren, and neighbors,” Daniels said. “There has been a great deal of community support.”

Photos submitted by Chesleigh Lee.

Daniels said the goal of the Manchester Makos is to present an opportunity for competitive swimming and to make sure local kids learn how to swim. The team members, of course, go above and beyond that. Daniels said they don’t just care about swimming but are great time managers and competitive in academics as well.

“Some of the kids I’ve worked with here are some of the hardest working swimmers I have ever met,” Daniels said. “Their dedication is second to none.”

Ultimately, the Makos are only as good as their coaches — Shawn Daniels, Rebekah Buchanan, Madeline Dewolfe, Cindy Weber, and Emily Williams. The Makos also owe much of their success to their first director, Bonnie Gamble, and former aquatics director, Vonda Hattaway. Daniels said Gamble was the one who got the funding for a swim team, as well as water time for the kids.

“We have a team with people and coaches that care about your child’s development, not just [how] they could contribute to a team,” Lee said. “They’ve made my kids stronger, they’ve made them better individuals, they’ve made them harder workers, they’ve shown them what it’s like to win, they’ve shown them what it’s like to be defeated, and they’re better people for it.” GN

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