FORT POLK — On a chilly day Feb. 2, the Fort Polk Swim Team met at the 50-meter pool for practice.

FORT POLK — On a chilly day Feb. 2, the Fort Polk Swim Team met at the 50-meter pool for practice. But before the business of training young swimmers proceeded, Brig. Gen. Gary Brito, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general, arrived to recognize the six Fort Polk youth moving forward to represent the installation at the Louisiana state championship.

The state championship for youth 12 and under is in New Orleans this weekend. The state championships for youth 13 and over are held in Sulphur next weekend. Swim teams from all over the state participate in meets and hone their swimming skills.

Brito commended the youth and their coach, Capt. Alan Saylor, Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group.

“I want to congratulate you guys for all the great work you’ve done, and I wish you the best of luck. Whatever the results are, you are already champions in our book,” he said.

Brito handed out certificates to each swimmer, Saylor and assistant coach Edward Yiehger.

After a round of applause from teammates and parents, practice returned to normal and training for the state competition continued as swimmers removed jackets, donned swim caps, and slipped into the pool.

The competitive aspect of the Fort Polk Swim Team is a collaborative effort between Fort Polk and the Louisiana College Aquatics Team based out of Pineville, Louisiana. The partnership allows for Fort Polk swimmers to function as a satellite of the USA Swimming Team for Louisiana College. The team consists of about 30 swimmers ages 6 through 18.

Throughout the season, Saylor said he has seen novice swimmers develop into proficient and even expert swimmers in some cases.

“I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate most of these kids in every event swimming has to offer. That allows them to find events they enjoy competing in, which makes them work harder and gives them a better chance of finishing higher in state rankings,” he said.

The fact that some of his swimmers are headed to state makes Saylor happy.

“I am ecstatic, to say the least, about the results of the season. I am a proud coach,” he said. “I believe that some of our swimmers will make finals in multiple events at state, with the chance of a couple maybe even finishing on top of the medal podium.”

One of the kids competing at state is Jackson Newsom, 16. Newsom is home schooled and said he jumped at the chance to be part of the swim program.

“It makes the transition between moves easier and is a great way to make friends,” said Newsom.

Being in and near the water is something Newsom said he loves.

“It’s a good physical workout and takes a lot of endurance and strength. It’s a tough sport, but it’s fun once you get into it,” he said.

The team practices several days per week — most of that training takes place at the 50-meter pool, though there is some dry land training that takes place in a gym setting. Pool time lasts anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.

“We generally swim anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 meters during practice,” said Jackson.

In a 50-meter pool, that translates into a lot of laps. But all that training seems to be paying off for the team.

It’s a blessing to be successful and move on to the state competitions, Newsom said.

“This was my first competitive season. I didn’t have any big expectations for myself going in. But towards the middle of the season, I decided I would try to make it to state. I got serious and set a goal to improve. This last meet, I qualified for state in three events, which is exciting,” he said. “It’s nice that all the hard work I put in during the season is paying off. It’s pretty cool. There are a lot of other swimmers that are really fast, but I’m going to try my best to win at state.”

Newsom’s brother, Joshua, 10, said he joined the swim team because he wanted to swim better, even though it takes a lot of energy to improve and be competitive in the pool, he said.

By qualifying to compete at the state swim meet, he said he accomplished something he could be proud of.

“It feels good and I think I have a shot to win at state,” said Joshua.

Submersion in water is a peaceful feeling for Logan Coombs, 13, Leesville Junior High School. “You can’t hear anything, and you are just swimming. “I love that feeling,” she said.

The swim team is fun, according to Coombs, but it’s definitely hard work.

“You have to be dedicated and put a lot of effort into it,” she said.

The prize for Logan is getting to compete. As she prepares for state competitions, she said it’s a relief to know that all her hard work has been worth it.

“It feels great to have won this season,” said Coombs.

This first taste of success has motivated Coombs.

“I want to swim in high school and college. I hope to be good enough to get a scholarship. I may even want to coach one day. I just really love swimming,” she said.

There are many benefits to being part of the swim team, said Coombs, including self-confidence. “You learn sportsmanship and make good friends on the team. The team becomes a little family,” she said.

Little sister, Madeline Coombs, 10, Vernon Middle School, said she likes to practice all the swim strokes when she is training because it’s just fun. “I’m pretty good at them, but the backstroke is probably my weakest stroke,” said Madeline. “I want to take the swim skills I’ve learned and win when I compete at state.”

As an island girl, Allison Anderson, 10, said swimming is second nature.

“I’ve lived on islands for most of my life — including Hawaii. I love the water,” she said. “I’m really excited to go to New Orleans and swim in the state championship. I don’t know if I’ll win, but I’m going to try really hard.”

Swimming is something Sylvia Robinson, 12, Anacoco Junior High School, loves to do because it’s a skill not many people have.

“It’s knowing you excel at something that not many people are good at,” she said.

Robinson is an alternate on the roster for the state competition in the 4x100 relay and Individual Medley 200 relay.

Her favorite part of swimming is the competitions, said Robinson. “I love the adrenaline I feel when I’m diving off the block,” she said. “I’ve trained hard to be competitive and I’m so excited that I’m going to state. As far as practice goes, there are times I just want to get out of the pool and stop but I tell myself that practice is almost over and I can make it just a little longer,” she said.

A big part of the team’s success according to the swimmers headed to the state competition is Saylor. “He has become a friend as well as a coach. He pushes me and the amount of effort he puts into our training helps me appreciate everything he does, which makes me respect him and want to work hard for him,” Newsom said.

Coombs said Saylor motivates and inspires her to do her best.

“He knows what’s good for me in respects to swimming and helps me with that,” she said.

As the assistant coach for the swim team, Edward Yiehger, 317th Engineer Battalion, said he wants to do all he can to teach the kids what he knows. “I like helping them learn how to work as a team and assist them in improving any weak areas in their swimming,” he said.

The kids are always positive, said Yiehger.

“They come ready and prepared to swim and are eager to learn new things,” he said.

Even though training can get intense, Yiehger said the kids are motivated.

“They never give up. They just keep working, but we try to make the training as much fun as possible. They might think they are playing a game, but they are actually improving their skills in one way or another. At the end of the day we are all laughing and having a good time. I am so proud of them,” he said.

Saylor said while they are having fun, he pushes them to work harder. “I have to develop a trust with the kids where no matter what I have them do, they know that they can do it because I wouldn’t ask it of them if they couldn’t. I have the utmost confidence in all my kids that they will be able to do the training regimen no matter how hard it may be,” he said.

They have a good shot at winning at state, said Yeihger.

“They are trying their best and their times are dropping. They keep getting better,” he said.