Photo By Gabriel Stovall Fairfield Area Swim Team coach Mike Slotnick (left) and team manager Loretta Clark enjoy a light-hearted moment at the team's end-of-the-year celebration.
After winning the Southern Crescent Swim League championship for the first time since 2005, coach Mike Slotnick believes that his Fairfield Area Swim Team (F.A.S.T.) is right back where it belongs.
“It felt good and very rewarding to finally win the trophy back from Fayetteville,” Slotnick said. “Our kids worked very hard, and it is fun to see how they improved and got faster by the end of the season.”
F.A.S.T. ended its season in the eight-team league on Tuesday with its annual end-of-the-year party. The team’s 100-plus swimmers gathered with their families at the Fairfield Community Association building to feast on Mexican food and celebrate the accomplishments of what Slotnick calls a comeback season of sorts for swimming’s popularity in Clayton County.
From 2003-2005 F.A.S.T. dominated the league winning championships when interest was high with about 90 swimmers, according to Slotnick, who is in his 10th year at the helm of the swimteam.
Slotnick saw his numbers dip into the mid 50s by the 2006-07 seasons.
However, participation is back on an upswing.
“This year is our second straight year over 100 kids,” he said. “We had 103 this year and I think it shows we’re bringing along a new generation of swimmers in the area.”
Of the 103, Slotnick says 27 of his swimmers went to district competition last weekend and qualified for the state swim meet that will take place on July 28-29 in Carollton.
Among the qualifiers are Anthony Reid, 16, of Jonesboro who qualified for the 200 Individual Medley and freestyle relays and just missed making the individual cut for state competition.
The Jonesboro High junior has been with the team since middle school and has fallen in love with the sport to the point where he desires nothing but the best for himself.
“The competition is what I like best about it all,” Reid said. “I like to win because it feels so gratifying when you take first and see all of your hard work pay off.”
Sierra Hill, a 10-year old student at Woodland Elementary, says she’s been swimming for fun most of her life, but enjoys the seriousness of competitive swimming even more.
“It’s just more intense,” she said.
There is no doubt about F.A.S.T.’s popularity on the Southern Crescent swimming scene, but team manager Loretta Clark said that the success of Slotnick’s program has allowed its imprint to expand to places outside of the Henry and Clayton County area.
“We’ve had kids come from as far as Rockdale County and Conyers just to swim with us,” she said. “We have such great coaches, great families and volunteers around us. These are who help make this team. We don’t hire outside of this group for others to run it like some teams do. We choose not to because that’s how you keep the team a family.”
Slotnick, who spent several years in the military, moved his family to Georgia in 1998 from El Paso, Texas, and while stationed at Fort McPherson. And despite the many moves prompted by his military career, Slotnick said swimming was the one thing that remained a constant with his family.
Slotnick’s wife, Melina, has been teaching swimming since 1973. Each move they have made because of his military obiligations, including stops in England and Germany, she has taught swimming.
It was a need that Slotnick saw for quality swimming instruction in the Southern Crescent area that prompted him to leave the military and put in roots in Clayton County.
In addition to the F.A.S.T. team, Slotnick also has helped to provide swimming programs in area schools, as well as a swim school and provides plenty of “learn-to-swim” options for kids of all ages.
“We saw that swimming was strong in the north side of the city, but the south side needed more of a presence,” he said.
Each time Slotnick sees F.A.S.T. achieve success, he gets a surge of optimism that makes him believe swimming can have an even larger place in Clayton and Henry counties. In fact, he believes that the enthusiasm of his kids is his best marketing strategy.
“If we can get them out in the summer and they enjoy themselves, that means they will bring their buddies next year,” he said. “Kids like to do things with their friends or do things where they can make new friends.”