Youthful swimmers plunge into life’s lessons

SALEM – Piranhas don’t sit the bench – they swim, they set goals, they improve – they learn lessons for life.

Coach Caroline McDermott founded the youth swim team Piranha Aquatics five years ago as a way to promote the sport she loves and give youngsters in the Salem area a chance to experience competitive swimming close to home.

“They get the camaraderie and socialization of being on a team, but their success is individual. That’s why we say no one sits the bench. All kids can see progress and contribute to the team,” she said.

The program is preparing to enter its sixth season and McDermott said the word is spreading, with children 18 and under from ten different school districts represented, including Salem, West Branch, Lisbon, Leetonia, Canfield, South Range, Western Reserve, United, Crestview and Liberty. Participation fluctuates from year to year, but she’s hoping to increase the number of team members to 75 this year.

A parent interest session for people who want to join is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Salem Community Center, which serves as the home pool for the team. Practice begins Sept. 9.

Registration is available online at Participants must be able to swim the length of the pool.

“We don’t group by age, we group by ability,” McDermott explained.

The team is divided into six groups: two pre-competitive groups where the swimmers are developmentally learning the strokes legally, two competitive groups who compete in meets, the home school group which practices during the day and the high school group which competes at the high school level.

She coaches all the levels, noting that Piranha Aquatics offers a professional coach as opposed to a parent/volunteer coach. Swimming competitively since the age of 10, she knows the sport.

McDermott swam at the YMCA in Youngstown and on a USA Swimming Club, representing Salem High School in competition and going to the state meet her senior year, specializing in the 100 breast stroke and the 50 freestyle. She swam for Baldwin Wallace University in Berea and ended her collegiate career as an Ohio Athletic Conference Champion and All Conference Academic. When she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, she held four school swim records for the 100 breast, 200 breast and 200 and 400 medley relays.

She started coaching at age 19 in summer league and coached a few other places. In 2008, she was coaching full-time at a YMCA in West Virginia and decided to leave and moved home to Salem. Her mom encouraged her idea of starting a swim program and 19 people showed up for the first meeting.

Since then, the program has gone from her private venture to a corporation with a parent board of directors awaiting approval of a non-profit status application. She volunteers as the Salem High School swim coach and also coaches high school swimmers from United, West Branch and Western Reserve. She usually has about 10 high school swimmers and they have meets with other schools in the area with swim teams, such as Louisville and Alliance.

Piranha Aquatics hosts the high school invitational in January at Youngstown State University with about 300 swimmers. The first invitational four years ago had about 75 swimmers. The Piranhas compete in the Lake Erie Swimming Zone in Ohio, with Ohio in the Central Zone of the country. They have some intersquad meets so parents don’t have to travel too far, besides going to zone meets.

The team includes kids who are still learning the strokes to swimmers who have local recognition. A 10-year-old on the team is considered one of the fastest in the state and in the zone which also includes Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

McDermott’s goal is for every kid to go to swim in college. She uses an iPad underwater to record video of the swimmers and their strokes and shows them video of other swimmers.

She gives them challenges, such as the 3600-second time improvement by the team as a whole, resulting in a pie in her face.

“It’s a healthy, lifelong activity,” she said about swimming, adding the kids learn about hard work and achievement.

Piranha Aquatics earned a Level I club recognition this year from USA Swimming due to success in four areas: business and organizational success; parent and volunteer development; coach development and education; and athletic development and performance.

They’ll be hosting morning clinics at Firestone Park in Columbiana on Aug. 15, 24 and 31.

To learn more, check the website at or call 330-548-SWIM.