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Despite challenges, GRAL season a success

Despite challenges, GRAL season a success

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MECHANICSVILLE – Getting the Greater Richmond Aquatic League season off was a close-run effort. Thanks to COVID-19, it almost didn’t happen.

But, with advanced planning, patient but quick decision making, and a lot of help from a lot of friends, the season went off pretty much without a hitch.

It might have been shorter. The opponents may have been invisible – as they were swimming at their own pools – and it took computers to sort out the winners in each meet.

But the kids got to swim, and in the long run, that was what mattered most.

One of the main attributes for a successful season was widespread flexibility.

“One way in which we had to adapt was that plans were ever-changing both due to weather and the pandemic,” said Hanover Country Club head coach Shelby Nash. “The kids had to learn to compete from afar, and with this they learned how sportsmanship has to balance with competition, especially during uncertain times like this.”

The weather seemed unwilling to led COVID-19 have all the fun disrupting plans. Weather interfered with scheduled meets both the last two weeks of the GRAL season – some meets were postponed more than once because of it.

A COVID-19 scare at the Carter Park Pool forced Ashland to postpone one of its swims for a week. But even that frustrating event yielded many memorable performances.

“When we had to take off for part of the season I was incredibly proud of the kids for not questioning any of the judgments but understanding that there were things more important than swimming,” said Ashland head coach Kevin Trent. “One of the joys of the season was seeing how happy they were to come back the next week.”

Much of the success of the season goes back to planning – planning that, in some cases, began as soon as last season ended.

“Every year we start planning the moment we leave Champs,” said Burkwood head coach Karen Seeber. “We're ready. I'm ready to go. … We were already, you know, planning. And then, of course, March hit. Fortunately, all the coaches were home. We started planning in March and we were just trying to be optimistic. And so we had a plan for when, you know, we would go through those phases [of reopening].

“We actually had plans for everything that we anticipated. Because the state shut down a certain way, we anticipated that the state would open a certain way. Thank goodness we had assistant coaches that were willing to work. Even though Burkwood checked all our stuff, they let us plan it because we were going to be the ones that actually implemented it.”

Everyone involved, especially those not getting in the water, had a lot to learn. They had to learn new ways to run practices and meets – and got a lot of useful guidance from USA Swimming. But those lessons were far from the biggest thing they all learned.

“The big lesson we learned is that we could actually do it virtually, and we could create safe distances. And we could do it with a reduced number of people and that the parents and the kids still had fun,” said Pebble Creek Piranhas president Greg Owens.

He said the effort was worth it.

“It gave the families something to do together,” Owens said. “That was a bit different from what they have been experiencing in the previous three months leading up to our abbreviated season. There was a lot of parents that were really grateful for us being able to give that to them.”

Dave Lawrence can be reached at

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