Sharks in Training

by | Jun 1, 2011 | Community, Features

Written by Janna Ritchie

‘Who are we? WE ARE THE SHARKS!’ resounds the voices of over 100 hundred Sharks huddled up after a great practice. It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes of even the hardest of hearts. These voices range in age, ability, background and life paths . . . but the love of being in the water unites them in the pursuit of excellence.

The Russellville Sharks Swim Team is a River Valley Boys and Girls Club-sponsored competitive swimming team for youth ages 6 to 18. The Swim Team was founded by Billy Newton’s mother around his love of swimming in the mid 1950s. He and his fellow team mates would travel to the War Memorial pool in Little Rock to compete alongside other competitive swimmers each summer. This love grew with Billy into his adulthood, and when he was a father to his own children, he and wife Marlene logged countless hours keeping the team alive in the 1980s and 90s.
Since then, it is that love of swimming which has drawn thousands throughout the years to the pool for early morning workouts and weekend competitions.
In 1993, the Russellville Swim Team and the River Valley Boys and Girls Club partnered up under the direction of Newton and Les Galloway, then director of the Club, to form the Russellville Sharks. This would prove to be a much needed partnership to add the structure that the fledgling team needed to succeed and grow.

And grow it did. As head coach I, Janna Ritchie, have seen the team grow from around 40 members to 115 over the six years I have coached. A former Shark myself, I have seen countless amazing swimmers and have been privileged to have many great coaches come through the program. And it’s not only swimmers that deserve mention; it’s the parent/family involvement that makes this sport such a family affair. So many community-minded families have been involved with the swim team, to many to mention really, and it is without a doubt that the team would not be where it is today without the help of these families!

It was Shark families who got the high school swim team up and running in the late 1990’s. And those families have kept it going for the last 15 years. Coach Knudsen and his sons were all involved with the Sharks as swimmers and coaches — and of course his wife was behind the scenes making it all happen.
“The Russellville Sharks summer swim team program has been part of our life for the past 10 years. Following the footsteps of my children’s cousin, they decided they wanted to join the team. Swimming is such a healthy sport and also a fun one, so I was more than happy to let them participate. Many new friends have been made not only from the Russellville team but also from the other teams they have competed with.”

“With the wonderful leadership and teaching by our coaches, the team has continually been at the top of all meets. Parental support has also been a big part of the Sharks. Everyone works so well together to promote the program. It is truly a great summer sport and I would encourage anyone to become a Russellville Shark,” reports Shark-Mom Kathy Price.
The Sharks Swim Team is a member of the River Valley Swim Association, consisting of teams from Alma, Clarksville, Paris, Ozark and Waldron. They practice Monday – Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at Hickey Pool and compete six weekends throughout the summer, each team hosting a Friday night or Saturday meet.
Competitive swimmers race using the following strokes in various distances: Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Butterfly. Swimming is an individual as well as a team sport. Through striving for their best, swimmers are able to help the team through individual races and relays which consist of four swimmers.
“As a parent of two Russellville Sharks, Cameron, 12, and Cassie, 11, I have seen my children grow in character, as well as improve as swimmers, over the last five years with the program. You can easily see goal setting, perseverance, and encouragement translate from the pool to school and home. They have learned that in order to achieve something you must work at it or ‘practice’, but if they put in the time and effort results can be seen,” said Coach Danya Johnson.

“I am also a coach of our 10 & Under swimmers. I am so proud to coach a sport where everyone can improve. A lot of youth activities require some specific talent or skill for participation but every swimmer can swim faster than themself in the race prior. I gain such joy from watching confidence develop from improving their time.”
Senator Michael Lamoureux, a parent participant in the Sharks, feels strongly about the long-lasting benefits of the program, as well.
“There are so many benefits to participating on the Sharks. As a parent, the part I appreciate the most is the confidence it gives the kids in the water. Even at the youngest ages, after one season your child will be a very strong swimmer.”

Practices will begin June 13th with a team meeting to be held 6:30-8 p.m. Sunday June 12, at Hickey Pool. For more information visit the team’s website at
Sign ups for the 2011 season are underway now at the Boys and Girls Club, located at 600 East 16th Street in Russellville. Swimmers will need a copy of their birth certificate in order to sign up.
Swimming is one of the few sports you can do your entire life, and the Sharks Swim Team is one of the only teams in the area that you can participate in for 12 years straight. The Sharks swim toward strong character and body through perseverance, confidence, sportsmanship, teamwork, personal bests and friendships. Most of all, they have fun!


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