CYO photos
Millie Barner powers to the finish in a breaststroke race.
CYO photos
Millie Barner powers to the finish in a breaststroke race.
CYO swimming concluded another successful season with its All Star meet Feb. 2 — just a day before the Super Bowl, and just in time to miss the blizzard that paralyzed the Portland area for days.

This most popular of the CYO swim meets featured swimmers from the 12 clubs covering an area from Salem to Vancouver, Wash. Almost 250 swimmers raced for medals, records and bragging rights. With team competition behind them, swimmers are even more inclined to applaud individual performances, regardless of team. As usual for the sport, the loudest cheers was given to record-breaking performances, and to those struggling to complete a tough race while coming in dead last.

Preceding the All Star meet were the Polliwog Championships, designed for swimmers pre-kindergarten through third grade. This year, CYO experienced significant growth in the swim program, especially in this age group. The Polliwog meet was packed with more 300 swimmers, 80 more than in any previous year. The noise was deafening, with emotions running high, as the little ones showed their splashy stuff in the relays. Given the emphasis on participation at this age, there is no scoring. That's meant to encourage a love of the sport, lifelong skill and a sense of accomplishment.

The Cub/Cadet Championships have grown over the years and had to be split into two divisions with two meets, each with its own awards for top performances. The combined team scores were calculated at the conclusion of both meets and the overall team award for 2014 went to Our Lady of Lourdes in Vancouver. The Salem team came in second, with Valley Catholic finishing off the top three. Our Lady of Lourdes has grown in its number of participants over the years to become the largest of the CYO swim teams with almost 100 members.

All four meets were held at Mount Hood Community College, the site of all CYO swim championships. The large pool was certainly needed this year because of the upswing in participation.

CYO was fortunate to have two new teams join the CYO swim program. West Hills Christian, under the leadership of head coach Kevin Killian, brought in more than 50 new swimmers. Christ the King in Milwaukie also fielded a new team and a passionate coaching staff headed by Jessica Conner.

CYO teaches the basics of competitive swimming without some of the pressures associated with higher levels of club competition. The program has grown steadily to almost 800 swimmers participating in the 2013-'14 season. 

Many swimmers are first-timers who can barely make the required 25 yards, the length of a standard sized pool. CYO routinely sees swimmers improve and win coveted ribbons during their first year.

CYO swimming strives to give each swimmer a positive experience. New swimmers entering at all grade levels benefit from learning how to swim farther and faster, with greater efficiency and confidence. Success is measured by improvement in times but also in the variety of strokes and distances.

CYO coaches strive to build a love for the water, and each year we see a number of CYO swimmers join U.S. Swimming club teams to train and compete year-round.

But most of these advanced swimmers stay with their CYO teams during the season because of the fun, competitive environment. Through the years CYO has become one of the areas largest feeder programs to U.S. Swimming, and has produced some of Oregon's most talented high school swimmers.

The writer is CYO swim director.