When the Dalton Dolphins toppled perennial Chattanooga Area Swim League juggernaut Signal Mountain at the 2006 City Meet, it took one of the biggest and best collections of talent the area summer swim team had ever assembled.
And even then, the Dolphins’ victory at the season-ending competition came by less than 75 points — a slim margin considering the amount of competitors and events at the meet.
“They’ve got speed and they’ve got more numbers than anyone,” Dolphins coach Charles Todd said of Signal Mountain, whom he expects to enter more than 120 swimmers to Dalton’s 87 this year. “They can outscore you in the top 16 just by putting so many little kids in different events. When we won it, we could beat them with speed and we could match them in numbers.”
The Dolphins will serve as hosts for this year’s meet, which starts at noon today at Dalton High School with diving, which is expected to last until 5:30 p.m. The action will shift to Fort Oglethorpe’s Arlene Crye Pool for strictly swimming competition that will last all day on Friday and Saturday. Preliminaries will be held throughout the day, with finals slated to start at 6 p.m. each night.
Dalton went 5-2 in dual meets this season, losing to both Signal Mountain, 437.5-361.5, and Stuart Heights, 432-378. But even if the Dolphins had vengeance on their minds going into the City Meet, Todd acknowledges they wouldn’t have all of their options available.
“We have a good number of swimmers going to the 14-and-under state meet at Dynamo Swim Club in Chamblee,” Todd said. “That’s a USA Swimming meet and some of my top swimmers will be gone, so that hurts relays and team scoring.”
While that might hamper the Dolphins’ chances for as high a finish as hoped for at the City Meet, it’s good for the individuals who have a chance to compete at such a meet.
“Ethan Young will be going and he’s got a good shot of making a (USA Swimming) zone team and the Georgia all-star team and winning some events,” Todd said.
Deciding where to send swimmers is sometimes a balancing act for Todd, who also heads up the year-round Carpet Capital Aquatics Club — of which the Dolphins are a sort of an introductory extension — and he knows those headed for Chamblee have a shot at higher honors. The USA Swimming state meet often conflicts with the City Meet and the balance of CASL clubs (11 from Tennessee vs. four from Georgia) equals a voting bloc that favors scheduling the league’s championship a week ahead of the Tennessee state meet.
“Our emphasis is not just on winning championships,” Todd said. “If we have kids who qualify to a higher level meet, we want their focus to be more on that. We have different levels of competition.”
Still, Todd expects the Dolphins to aim for a top three finish in Fort Oglethorpe. A year ago, Dalton was third behind Signal Mountain and Stuart Heights — that team absorbed the swimmers from Colonial Shores when that club folded after the 2008 season — and the Dolphins haven’t finished worse than that since 2003. From 2004-2009, the Dolphins also finished as runners-up four times, while Signal Mountain has won the City Meet every year during that stretch, save 2006.
Even without some top swimmers, Todd expects good things, particularly from his 15-18 boys, 13-14 boys and 11-12 girls. Youngsters like Emilio Valdez and Oscar Chenard are among those who can make a difference for the Dolphins.
“On paper, it looks like Signal Mountain will be pushed by Stuart Heights,” Todd said. “We’re looking for a top-three finish. It would be great to be second, but it will be hard without our point-scorers there.”
With host duties, the Dolphins will have a busy weekend no matter what — or at least their parents will. Meet director Rob Cushman says he’ll have 70 to 80 parents helping him with everything from recording times to manning the hospitality room for coaches and officials.
“It’s a pretty big effort,” Cushman said. “... But I tell you, the City of Fort Oglethorpe has been helpful in bending over backwards and doing anything it can to help make it a big show.”
It’s also expected to be a pretty big fundraiser for the Dolphins, the CCAC and Dalton High and Dalton Middle’s swim teams, who will benefit from the six-lane scoreboard profits are expected to go toward. For the past two years, those groups have been raising money for the $18,000 device that will be used at the Dalton High pool, where the CCAC hosts meets, and this weekend could equal the final push toward that mark.
“We want to put the money back into the club,” Todd said.
Regardless of the Dolphins’ showing at the meet, it’s been another productive summer toward one of the team’s main goals each year — growing area interest in the sport.
“We’ve got kids from all over Whitfield County and even from Murray County and Gordon County,” Todd said. “If we can get a number of those to train year-round with our CCAC Makos, it’s only going to make us a stronger team for next year.
“I think it’s probably one of the better things we do for our team in Dalton, is doing the summer league. It helps our program grow in size and get better.”