Penguins

Members of the 2021 Winchester Penguins gather on the bleachers at the Winchester Swimplex following a recent practice. The Penguins range in age from 6-18.

The Winchester Penguins will be competing in their league championship meet Saturday in Manchester, though the event will be more fractured than in past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meet will be held across four venues with the 10 teams in the league split across the locations.

Penguins head coach Melanie Huffhines said an attempt will be made to combine the results after the fact, but there will be no official league champion this year.

“This year, we’ll just be racing against Manchester, Tullahoma and ourselves. We’re not really going to score outside of that day,” Huffhines said. “For coaches’ notes, they’re going to try to merge those results to see what we’ve got.”

Huffhines said there was some uncertainty prior to the start of the season due to the ongoing pandemic, but a general downswing in the number of active COVID cases in the area has allowed the Penguins to return to normalcy this summer.

“We’ve been blessed with the ability to open up and have normal practices. Attendance has been good. We’re getting back to building our team up,” she said.

The Penguins have one of the smaller teams in their league, and Huffhines said that a cancelled 2020 summer swim season hurt their numbers a bit this season.

However, she added that the recreational team is always willing to accept new members, regardless of their skill level.

“You don’t have to know how to swim to be on the swim team. We teach them everything they need to know from blowing bubbles to the full strokes,” she said. “I think a lot of people think that if they join the swim team, they have to already know how to swim. We’re just trying to get the information out there.”

Huffhines said that the older athletes on the team help to instruct the younger swimmers, providing a major benefit for a roster with ages ranging from 6-18.

“We’ve had a lot of our older kids teaching our younger kids this year. They’ve really stepped up,” she said. “I think it’s also helped them in their strokes and their practices as well.”

Huffhines is also the coach of Franklin County’s middle school and high school swim teams, which usually compete in the winter, though the COVID-19 pandemic did push the 2020-21 school swim season into the spring.

She said that the development of skills during the summer swimming season can be very important for young athletes.

“Learning the drills and learning the techniques at an early age will help them to feel more confident if they join the middle school team and then on into high school,” she said.

However, she added that having swimming experience is not a requirement for joining the school teams.

“Every year, when we start our middle school and high school seasons, we have people that join that have never swam before,” Huffhines said. “We don’t turn anybody away, but having that foundation does help them feel more successful and gives them a little bit of a heads-up of what’s to come.”

In addition to the summer season, Huffhines said she is hoping to field a recreational team for a three-month fall season.

“Normally, we offer a year-round team starting in August that goes all the way to May, but this year, we’re going to chop it up,” she said. “So they can come and swim for three months, take a break and then come again in the spring. We’re hoping to keep our attendance and numbers up in that way.”

The Penguins will have their league championship meet to wrap up the summer swimming season on Saturday at the Manchester Recreation Center. The meet is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.