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The Black Mountain Stingrays conclude their summer season on Saturday, July 23 with the final meet of the Tarheel Swim League in Forest City.

About 500 swimmers are expected to participate, including six area teams. In addition to Black Mountain, the league's newest member, teams from McDowell, Forest City, Granite Falls, Valdese and Transylvania County will compete at the meet.

Among the competitive swimmers will be Megan Smailes, 13, who decided to give the Stingrays a try this summer because her family knew another swimmer on the team. She didn't know the different strokes when she started out, but over the course of two months, she has made great progress. This season she is one of nearly 100 kids on the Stingray's roster, which has grown each of the past four years.

On Saturday, swimmers and family members will travel the hour to Rutherford County to support the local team during the final meet.  Large tents will provide shade; towels and camp chairs will fill the grounds of the Forest City pool area. Coolers filled with cold beverages will help all endure the heat. Swimmers will share snacks, swim stories, card games and, most importantly, camaraderie.  T-shirts with slogans like "Keep Calm and Swim On" and "I'm a Swimming Chick" will sell. Swimmers have fun marking their arms with their event numbers, as well as with swim slogans like "Eat My Bubbles."

Head coach Beth DuBrock believes the swimmers who travel to the conference meet will grow from the experience of competing on a larger scale. "We are in a really good position to be very competitive at the conference meet," she said. "Even some of the newest swimmers on the team will be very competitive and able to help score points for the team."

DuBrock is pleased that many of the more seasoned swimmers have advanced and improved their times this season, she said.

Hannah Stanley, in her fourth season with the team, is ready for the conference meet "but kind of nervous at the same time," she said. Her dad, Ryan, is a regular coach at evening practices and has helped Hannah and many others improve their times this season. A highlight of this season for Hannah has been helping younger swimmers with their strokes at practices.

This season the Black Mountain team defeated the McDowell team, a team that has been around for decades. "Every time our swimmers compete and don't quit, we win," said DuBrock. When a swimmer gives it his best or improves his time, the Stingrays win, regardless of whether they accumulate more points than the other team, she believes.

Evie Whitman, who moved to Black Mountain from Florida at the start of  summer, believes joining the swim team has been the perfect way to make new friends.  Called "my little fish" by her mother, Evie did not know much about the strokes, but she  knew she loved to swim. "I love the  team practices, making new friends. And  my times are getting faster at the meets," she said.  She is already eager to sign up for next summer.

At the rate the team is growing, the Black Mountain Stingrays could become the largest in the league in several year's time, DuBrock believes. She is thrilled that more and more families are signing up or expressing interest. A typical week for the team this summer has included four practices and one meet per week. Meets were hosted at various area pools, including some  at the Black Mountain pool. Meets are long because they include individual events in each of the four swim strokes, as well as  medleys and relays.

"I have been amazed by the support the swimmers show for one another," DuBrock said. "They help each other, and the camaraderie they share and sportsmanship have made me very proud." She has been pleased that some of the older swimmers have mentored and encouraged younger ones.

"I believe every individual has a competitive side, whether against himself to improve his own time or against another swimmer in the race to the finish," said DuBrock.

The swim program will resume in May 2017. For details, check the Black Mountain Recreation and Parks Department website (blackmountainrec.com) and Facebook page.

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