Mason Manta Rays swim club earns national recognition

Kaitlin Lewis | Staff Writer

On December 15, local swimming club program the Mason Manta Rays was awarded a gold medal from the USA Swimming Club Excellence Program. This voluntary program recognizes top USA Swimming clubs as a way to promote the development of well-rounded athletes, as well as provide resources to motivate clubs to work towards higher athlete performance.

The Manta Rays were ranked eighth out of 3,000 teams across the United States and were the only club in Ohio to win a gold medal this year. Swimming clubs who are awarded a gold medal are able to apply for grant money from USA Swimming, as well as the right to use the Club Excellence Program logo on their website for promotion.

This is the first year the Manta Rays have been awarded a gold medal from the Club Excellence Program. Mason junior Karson Walker, who has been on the Manta Rays since he was six, said that winning gold was a common goal for the team this season.

“I feel like everyone knew there was that goal coming into this season,” Walker said, “So everyone was more focused and more invested. Realizing we (were) closer to this goal made (us) harder working.”

The Manta Rays swimming club was established in 2004 by the current head coach, Ken Heis. Being a newer club, however, does not hinder the athletes’ experiences or performance. The club recruited even faster swimmers this season, creating a competitive atmosphere between teammates, says Mason junior Scott Shepard, who has been in the club for six years now. The competition within the team pushes the athletes to perform their best.

“When we gain faster swimmers, there’s still only four spots for the relays,” Shepard said, “So you have to step up and fight for your spot. It is a team sport, but you still have to compete with your teammates. (The) rivalry with teammates really helps you to improve. ”

Compared to other USA clubs who were also recognized by the Excellence Program, the Manta Rays are a fairly young team. Walker said that the ninth place team, ranked just below the Manta Rays, has been around since 1977, a significant amount longer. Being awarded a medal from the USA Excellence Program is exciting for any team and was almost shocking for this club.

“If you have ask anybody, I think they would be surprised on how the Manta Rays have developed,” Walker said, “I’ve definitely learned to adapt to adversity and preserve more, because the Manta Rays have had its ups and downs, and I have too.”