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Swimming: Flowery Branch crowds pool with bigger roster
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GAINESVILLE — The three lanes the Flowery Branch swim team uses during practice at the YMCA in Gainesville are crowded.

With 20 memebers, the team has to divide each lane into pairs, with two smaller lanes going in opposite directions in each of the three main lanes.

It is a problem coach Valerie Krause is delighted to have.

"It is very different from last year," Krause said.

In only its second year in existence, the Flowery Branch swim team has grown 10-fold. Last year, their first, the Falcons had just two swimmers. This year they have 20.

Krause didn’t know if the young program would even survive its inaugural year.

"When we finished with just two swimmers, I was worried," Krause said. "After the season, we started pushing, getting the word out and getting parents involved."

The hard work paid off with increased interest in the program that led to the longer roster of swimmers.

Freshman Adam Youngman was one of the people to join the team after its first year.

"I’ve been swimming for four years, so when I heard my high school was going to have a team, it kind of possessed me to join," Youngman said. "For a really small team, we are doing really, really well."

Senior Kate Sanford came to Flowery Branch from Houston County, a school that has a developed swim team. She said swimming for a smaller team took some adjustments.

"It’s different," she said. "I hope the interest grows. I hope it gets bigger over the years."

The bigger roster also resulted in an increased workload for Krause, who is also Flowery Branch’s softball coach.

"I have to be able to push the athletes that are at the advanced level, but also be able to break it down for the ones that are learning," she said. "It is all on me. Now, I have to worry about strategy, getting as many points as possible during a meet."

In that respect, Krause and her swimmers have had relative success. The Falcons have finished in the top eight with Class AAAA and AAAAA schools in every meet they have competed in.

The Falcons, who have a meet Saturday, even have a swimmer qualified to compete in the state meet: sophomore Taylor Howard.

Howard could get credit for the genesis of the program. It was her desire to have a swim team in her freshman year that sparked the team and convinced Krause to volunteer as the team’s coach.

"I just love to swim," Howard said. "I wanted to swim and be competitive in high school. ... It was really difficult to get it started."

Once the team was formed, Howard was surprised at how fast it grew.

"It’s very exciting to have teammates," she said with a smile. "I figured people would come around. It just wasn’t heard that we had a team."

Howard has big plans for her swimming career. She would like to earn a scholarship and swim in college. She also has a goal for the progam.

"I’m upset that they (the county) don’t claim it as a sport," Howard said. "Before I graduate, I want them to realize that this is a sport and not a club."

Swimming is not recognized or sanctioned by the county’s board of education as a sport. It is referred to as a club.

What that means, practically, is that swimmers do not get as much funding as other sports that are sanctioned by the county. The Falcons rely on funds from the school and from parents for pool time and uniforms.

Flowery Branch does, however, allow swimmers to earn school letters, like in other sports.

Krause said that she was told by Gordon Higgins, the county director of community relations and athletics, that swimming is behind lacrosse in the line for clubs to be considered as school sports.

"It is a hard decision to make," Krause said. "I don’t think they realize how much time and money it takes to get something like this off the ground."

Krause said that getting other schools with interested swimmers to create teams would go a long way in getting the sport more recognition. Gainesville and North Hall also have swim teams.

"It is going to take a lot of people showing them that there is a need for it and that kids can benefit from it," Krause said.

The more kids Krause has on the team, the better she will be able to display its benefits.

Flowery Branch’s coach is hoping that the team will double in size during the offseason. That would provide her with another pleasant problem to solve.

"We’ll have to come up with a new plan, of course," she said.

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