Y’s Gators back in the swim

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Dennie Wilson heads Aquatics and other programs at the Glens Falls YMCA. She’s leading the revival of the Gators swim team but hopes to hand off that job. Photo provided

After a two-year hiatus, the Glens Falls YMCA’s Gators swim team is finally back.

“We’re very excited. We’re hoping to start up on September 19th,” says head coach Dennie Wilson.

Tryouts were set for yesterday and today, Sept. 14 and 15, but that might pause. Ms. Wilson said the new pool heater wasn’t working as of Monday; repairs are imminent.

Pre-Covid, the Gators team had more than 100 swimmers, ages 5 or 6 to 18, Ms. Wilson said.

“Most of the top kids moved south to different teams” that re-started earlier, in Saratoga and elsewhere. “Some have aged out and went to college.”

“I’m expecting to build from the ground up,” she says. “The swim lessons will feed into Gators. I believe we will get there.”

When Covid hit in 2020, the Y closed, including the pool. Ms. Wilson was among the staff members let go at the time. The pool reopened last August, and Ms. Wilson returned.

She hoped to restart the Gators sooner, but the first order was to bring back swim lessons and “Gatorades,” the non-competitive kids’ swim program.

The Y pool has experienced closures for lack of lifeguards and for maintenance issues. This summer, it closed again for major repairs, cleaning and regrouting.

Ms. Wilson said she’s training all her coaches as lifeguards, hopefully to alleviate that issue.

Ms. Wilson noted that she is the Y’s Senior Program director, also in charge of Maintenance, Wellness and Aquatics.

She hopes to pass the torch as Gators coach. She said she’s training this year’s returning coaches and former Gators swimmers who have returned to help.

“It’s not just about coaching them to swim,” Ms. Wilson says with emotion. “I try to coach them to be better people and good people.”

She adds afterwards by email, “Coaching as you now have heard from my emotion is something that I am passionate about. I myself have had coaches that have impacted my life in more ways than making me fast in the pool.

Past Gator swimmers spelling Y-M-C-A. Photo provided

“I have hoped to extend some of the wisdom and confidence that my coaches have given me to other adults and youth that have graced the pool while I have been on deck coaching….

“I would like to pass the majority of the responsibilities on, but I will always be involved.”

Her swim coaching at the Y began with older Masters swimmers. When her own kids were young she started teaching them and coaching the youth team.

“This is what it’s all about,” she says, “teaching people how to swim, to keep getting to be better swimmers, to love competition if they want that.”

She cites an end of year banquet when she recognized two swimmers. “One was Hawthorne, my son who I started coaching for. The other was Matt Walton, who made me want to be a better coach.

“When you see a fire in someone, as a coach you want to keep it,” said Ms. Wilson. “You want it to spread to other swimmers, and it does. Matt had that fire and I had to keep raising the bar.”

She notes, “Currently Hawthorne is the new membership experience director at the YMCA, and Matt is who I chose to lead the Glens Falls Gators back.”

Ms. Wilson said, “Swimming — I guess youth sports in general — it teaches kids a lot, like ways to cope with anxiety.

It’s so beneficial in the long term. The goal is that they will still be swimming when they’re 80, and loving it.”

Ms. Wilson adds, “We do a lot of outside things, like helping with the Lake George Triathlon and at Y events.”

She recalls a team that ran the Glens Falls Urban Assault obstacle road race together, all holding on to a lane divider from the pool. “It teaches you, you’re only as fast as your weakest link, and don’t leave anyone behind.”

Anyone who can complete a lap of freestyle and a lap of backstroke without stopping is eligible to join Gators. “We can train them to do everything else.”

Gators swimmers must be Y members; the cost to join the team depends on level. Practices range from once or twice a week to five days, again depending on level.

Those who missed tryouts may e-mail to still join: dwilson@glensfallsymca.org.

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