PEMBROKE — Gabriel Scott proudly flaunted a pair of medals around his neck during the swimming portion of the Lumbee Games on Monday.
After competing in the backstroke and freestyle races held at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s aquatics facility, Scott couldn’t hold back his smile.
“It feels really good,” Scott said. “I like swimming.”
Scott was among the oldest competitors in an event that featured divisions for swimmers as young as 7 years old.
Each participant in the swimming competitions walked away with a medal, but for UNCP swimming coach Rhonda Blank, the prizes were just a small part of what the event meant for the swimmers.
Blank, who served as emcee of the races, said many of the participants had been taking swimming lessons recently, and the games allowed them to show how much they’ve learned.
“Some of these kids have never actually swam any type of competition before,” Blank said. “Some of them weren’t even swimming at the beginning of the summer. To be able to see the complete a 50-yard swim is just absolutely awesome. They’ve gone from swim lessons to swim club to actually doing a small competition.
“It’s a huge achievement for them, just in one summer. We’re here to teach not just water safety, but how much fun the water can be, and hopefully develop a passion for swimming that will last a lifetime.”
Spectators got in on the fun as well as they filed in around the pool and in the grandstands of the aquatics center. Despite the temperature hovering around 90 degrees inside the facility, they cheered on each competitor as the swimmers from the moment they jumped from the blocks to the second they reached the finish line.
“My favorite part was seeing the parents’ reaction to their children competing,” Blank said.
The turnout reflected the event’s development over the years.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” Blank said. “It’s been going on for several years now, and each year there’s more and more interest. We’re serving three different counties tonight, and it just makes it so much fun to know that people will come to UNCP to participate in such an awesome event.”
The swimming competition was one of two sessions taking place on Monday as part of the games, with wrestling being the other event earlier in the day.
The games will continue on Thursday with tennis before wrapping up with a 3-on-3 basketball tournament on Friday.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.