HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Rocket City Swim League City Meet July 11-13 is so big, the athletes take up residence in team tents all around the Brahan Spring Natatorium.
The RCSL City Meet begins with the diving competition on Friday, July 11. The swim meet portion for all these happy campers is Saturday and Sunday. The city swim championships features 18 teams from pools all around Madison County. Ten-and-under swimmers start both days at 8:30 a.m. The older athletes compete in the afternoon.
With more than 1,200 swimmers reporting to the starting blocks, this is the largest swim meet in the county. The meet is run by a large group of dedicated volunteers.
“Without the volunteers, nothing happens,” said RCSL President Scott Harting. “Every job is crucial. Everybody has a gift and we try and plug people in according to their specialty and they usually wind up where they belong.”
The teams recently completed five dual meets on a home and away basis during the regular season. They all gather next for the RCSL city championship meet at a neutral site.
The Huntsville Natatorium indoor facility, located at 2213 Drake Ave., offers bleacher seating for spectators. The meet features electronic timing and is free to view. Concessions and memorabilia will be on sale all around the complex.
“It’s really a fun weekend,” Harting said. “All the volunteers make it run. Everybody does it because they love the kids. They also love what the city meet represents. I’ve been blessed with a great group of board members and it is very humbling to be a part of such a great group of really outstanding people.”
Harting, who works as a Logistics Management Specialist at Redstone Arsenal, is polishing off his second year as RCSL president. He credits his wife and son for sparking his interest in swimming.
“My wife, Lori, saw a write-up about the Madison Dolphins swim team (District II ARPA league) and took my son, Zach, to tryouts,” Harting explained. “He was 7 years old and now he’s 16.”
In those nine years, Zach Harting has risen to become one of the top swimmers in the nation.
Zach now competes in the RCSL for the Redstone Launchers and year-round for the Huntsville Swim Association USA Swimming team. This is his fourth year on the Redstone team and the third year as a swimmer and an assistant coach for the Launchers. HSA Senior Assistant Coach Colette Migliozzi is also Redstone’s head coach.
“I like having Coach Colette there,” Zach Harting said. “She knows so much. After practice at Redstone, I talk to her about the Redstone swim team itself as her assistant coach. Then, she sometimes talks to me about things I should be doing as her serving as my swim coach. She is especially good at writing up workouts.”
Migliozzi says Zach has the internal motivation it takes for coaching and a bubbling outward personality. She says he’s also focused on finding the right college academically to further his swimming career down the road on scholarship.
“I’m going to miss him after next year,” Migliozzi said. “He’s very much a team leader. He’s that way with Redstone and with HSA. He’s so good with the little kids.”
Harting still holds some Madison Dolphins and Madison Swim Association records. He started on the developmental team with the Dolphins. It wasn’t long before he moved up and set an 8-and-under boys’ 25-yard butterfly record time of 16.00 at Dublin Park Pool. It still stands.
“At the end of the first year, I was on the real team,” Harting said. “I started winning some heats. I thought I was winning the whole thing. I didn’t realize there were kids swimming next with faster times. I thought I was doing really well and it kept me going. I especially began to love the way the butterfly feels when you go fast.”
Harting holds HSA individual and relay records as well as RCSL records. Earlier this season, he set a new RCSL age 15-17 fly record for 50 yards to go along with his age 13-14 top time.
He is a member of the prestigious USA Swimming Scholastic All-American Team and holds a 4.3 GPA going into his senior year at Bob Jones High School.
The 5-10, 140-pound swimming phenom won the 100-meter fly in the Alabama High School State Meet last season. He also anchored the Bob Jones 200-meter freestyle relay that set the state record time of 1:25.84. And, he swam the fly in the Patriots’ gold swim in the 200 medley relay.
Last March, Zach finished fourth overall in the 200 butterfly at the NCSA Junior Nationals in Orlando, Fla. Competing as a member of HSA against the top 18-and-under swimmers in the country, Harting’s time of 1:46.50 broke U.S. Olympian Gil Stovall’s age 15-16 Southeastern LSC event record set in 2003.
“I woke up sick the day of the prelims,” Zach said. “My coach said it was okay if I wanted to scratch, but I figured I came all this way and trained so hard, I wanted to give it a go. I did well in my prelims. I was pretty happy with that, especially for what I went through in the morning.”
Preliminary adversity led to final confidence.
“I went back to the hotel and really hadn’t eaten because I couldn’t hold anything down. Coach Colette said I should just eat a baked potato and drink Gatorade and water. On the way to the final, HSA Head Coach (Matt) Webber gave me another baked potato. I had it in my pocket wrapped up.
“They march you out for the finals, kind of like they do for the city meet, with music and introductions,” Harting added. “In the waiting room, you could hear a pin drop. I pulled out my potato and started eating it like a hot dog. It was pretty funny. I felt like, if I had overcome what I did in the prelim, I could do well in the finals.”
The electrifying 200 fly finals featured the top six swimmers all lowering their preliminary times by more than a second.
“There’s always going to be adversity and curve balls that are going to be thrown at you, whether you are at a summer league meet, or junior nationals, or the Olympics,” Webber said. “To be able to handle that mentally is where we want kids to be at when they leave this program.”
While just about every swimmer dreams of making the Olympic Trials, Harting realizes he already has a legitimate chance to have a qualifying time, once the new standards are released for the 2016 trials meet in Omaha, Neb.
“He’d be close for sure,” Webber said. “Those standards will probably come out in the fall. With two summers left, he’s on line to do that as well as several other athletes with HSA.”
After the city meet, Harting will continue on his national trek. He’s obtained ‘A’ qualifying cuts for HSA in the 100 and 200 meter fly for the 2014 USAS Junior Nationals (long course) July 30 in Irvine, Cal. But first, he’ll stop by the Southeastern Championships July 17-20 to see if he can add 200 and 400 IM junior national qualifying times.
When asked about his nutrition – Harting said he likes to eat eight scrambled eggs with baked or fried potatoes, cheese and salsa after his early morning workouts. The rising star swimmer also gave insight into his daily summer weekday schedule.
“I get up at around 4 a.m. for HSA practice. I then go to Redstone practice. I get home at about 12:15 in the afternoon after Rocket City Swim League practice, so it depends a lot on if and when I get lunch. I try and get a nap in there before I return to HSA practice at 2:30. It’s turn and burn.”
Harting is not complaining. He loves swimming. If you don’t believe him, just go to the Nat and witness a practice. He’s usually the last senior swimmer to leave, happily waving to all the coaches on deck as he goes. Sometimes they see him. Other times, they’re so busy they don’t. He’ll wave a few times at each coach and then disappear until the next time.
Or, you can go watch him work with all of the boys and girls on the Redstone Launchers’ swim team. Zach especially enjoys working with the youngest swimmers because he never knows what they’ll say or do next.
“It’s inspiring to me as a dad to see what he does,” Scott Harting said. “He really works hard. I don’t make him get up early in the morning. He wants to do it. He is learning that hard work pays off and commitment pays off. And now, he’s also giving back as a coach. He’s even worked with underprivileged kids. He realizes it is not so much what you can do, it is also helping one another.”
When all the waves settle, Zach is just another one of those volunteers who humbles the RCSL president.
“All the positive things that sports brings, that swimming brings, all the competition, those things are real in life,” Scott Harting said. “They learn it through great teachers and from parents, too. Some of them even turn around and give back what they’ve learned and help others. It’s inspiring to see Zach do that now. This is just a good community for children to receive the good values we want them to learn.”
City meet swimmers compete in the four basic strokes for individual boys and girls age-group titles: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke. Three swimmers per team can compete for points in each event and no swimmer can compete in more than three individual preliminary events. The top 16 from the prelims swim again in the finals. The 16 finalists are individually introduced and led to the blocks with a rock concert atmosphere.
Nobody is left out, though. Swimmers who don’t make the top three in any of the four events can compete in the freestyle exhibition event.
Top swimmers also compete for points in team medley, mixed freestyle and freestyle relays. Like the exhibition swims, these are all finals. All pools have four swimmers on each of their relay teams. There are both boys and girls competition, except for the mixed relay. This exciting event includes each respective team’s two fastest boys and girls on the same relay squad.
Team points are tallied to see which pool wins the overall team title. Piedmont Pool is the defending team champion. Greenwyche won the title in 2012. The first city meet was held in 1965.