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York YMCA builds scholars and Olympic athletes

Alyssa Jackson
  • The York YMCA swim program at the Graham Aquatic Center is ranked one of the best in the nation.
  • There's a focus on education as well; more than 90 percent of the team's swimmers get scholarships for college.
  • For the last two years, the swim program has produced the No. 1 ranked swimming recruit in the nation.

York YMCA swimming is one of the best YMCA programs in America, according to head coach John Nelson, but it's not only churning out Olympic-level athletes such as Hali Flickinger, a former Spring Grove Area High School graduate who is competing in Rio. The swim program also focuses on the academics of its swimmers.

Central York High School senior Marisa Gingerich swims at the 2014 Long Course YMCA Nationals. submitted

Ninety percent of the students who swim with York YMCA swimming get scholarships for college, according to a news release from the organization. One former swimmer is competing at Harvard while another two attend Princeton University. With a number of college coaches coming to practices and meets to see the athletes, academics are never far from the swimmers' minds.

Swimmer Marisa Gingerich is a rising senior at Central York High School, and she's been speaking with college coaches at her competitions and considering her future endeavors. Swimming with York YMCA has made her a better athlete while keeping her focused on her academics and future, she said.

"It's made me a lot more disciplined," she said. "I know if I'm good at swimming I need to keep my grades up, because I have to have both for college."

Nelson said the team spends a lot of time doing mental training and discussing topics in the news or related to sports. Last year during the summer, the team participated in a book club to keep everyone mentally challenged during the summer break and to keep academics incorporated into their training.

They also spend a lot of time talking about what could get an athlete banned from competing in the Olympics. Nelson said a number of students aspire to compete on the Olympic team, and in the last two years the program has produced the nation's No. 1 swimming recruit. The team has 10 or 11 students who are very close to qualifying times for the Olympic team, he said, adding he anticipates they will eventually achieve it.

According to USA Swimming, 300,000 swimmers across the nation are involved in 2,800 clubs. Each year, Nelson said, the association ranks these teams, and the top 20 teams in the country are given gold medal status. In the last three years, York YMCA swimming has earned that gold medal status twice.

To foster such high-achieving athletes, the team practices nearly every day of the week throughout the year, with a single week break during the summer and during April for spring break. Nelson said they work with all ages, and prices to join the swim club vary based on that because the older students travel the nation to compete against other YMCA swim clubs.

The time commitment can be daunting, and many people may wonder how the students could possibly practice that much and keep their grades up.

"We really focus on the development of the swimmer, their mind, body and soul," Nelson said. "The well-rounded, well-educated athlete is what we're looking for."

York YMCA swimming takes students of all ages and abilities. To learn more about the program or to register a student to the club, visit the club's website.