Seawolves: Across the Generations
Ellie Quattrin Dodd with Melissa Olsen, Annie Vargas-Abernathy, and Kingsburg Times Staff
Daughter and Mother Sienna and Annie Vargas – Abernathy have been involved in Seawolves for decades: Sienna as a current swimmer on the Seawolves team, and Annie is a former Seawolves Swimmer and current Seawolves parent.
Hi! This is Sienna Abernathy. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my swimming story! Throughout my journey of being a competitive swimmer I have received countless opportunities to meet Olympians, travel around the country, and participate in highly competitive swim camps. The competitive and social aspect of swimming is what keeps me drawn to the pool. The friendships that I have made through swimming will last a lifetime. In our town we need to teach our children the importance of water safety and being comfortable in the pool. This is why I encourage everyone to participate in Kingsburg Seawolves.
Annie Vargas-Abernathy. I was a Sea Wolf my entire adolescence. The best thing about Seawolves for me is seeing all the families together. And I love seeing all the generations return to the pool. I have kids that I coached in high school when the pool was first built, and now they are parents and have their kids on the swim team! It is the best!! I get asked all the time why we have winning teams. Honestly, it’s because everyone involved with Seawolves loves being there. It’s all the positivity and love that helps to build confidence in each and every swimmer and makes championship teams!!!
How did this wonderful experience for the Kingsburg Community materialize? Let’s start at the beginning.
Sam Crandell and Seawolves by Ellie Quattrin Dodd
Sam Crandell and the Seawolves’ Early Years:
I can never remember a time I didn’t know Coach Crandell. I also never ever remember calling him Mr. Crandell, I always called him Coach. I started Seawolves Swim Team sometime when I was around 9 years old. My first glimpse of him was at Red Cross Swim lessons at the “old” Kingsburg High School pool. I took lessons every year, sometimes 2 sessions a summer. I loved to swim and I still do. Coach was always on the deck watching his lifeguards giving lessons. He gave the lifeguards their lessons to save us and he was always around the pool. Once I joined swim team we swam every day except for weekends. We swam laps and learned the strokes everyday at practice. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember any other coaches on deck teaching us. Coach Crandell had a presence about him. Coach was in charge and you respected him. He was short but stout. Balding, but always had a pith hat on so you never saw but the sides of his head. Occasionally he wore a baseball cap, but because of the intense summer sun and heat he always seemed to stick to the pith hat. Coach Crandell was a one-man show. On meet nights away from Kingsburg, between 3:00 – 5:00, we would meet in the circle drive by the pool to load the bus. He drove the bus, set up the heats and chaperoned all of us by himself. I don’t ever remember seeing a parent riding on the bus with us. At home meets, he would drain the baby pool and that’s where as a team; members made “camp”. He told us NOT to eat but we could have the dried Jell-O sugar or honey from a plastic bear. I look back and I see organized chaos, swimmers and kids everywhere. Parents showed up to time and start races and I have no clue who did the scoring or the paperwork. Most of us swam every summer; it was fun, social and educational. Many of us would return to the pool after practice and swim the whole afternoon. We spent hours in the pool.
Seawolves is Disbanded
At some point between 1980-1981 the old high school pool was condemned and the high school and Seawolves had to practice and have meets at other pool sites. It was not a good combination. Eventually the pool was dug out and replaced with a sand volleyball court. The Seawolves floundered for a few years before the team was disbanded and those really wanting to swim would join other local town clubs.
A New Pool and a New Plan
The years passed and I got married to Wyman and had two children, Hayley and Blake. I still lived in Kingsburg and I was determined to have a place for my children to swim and experience Seawolves. There had been much talk about building a high school/community pool. It wasn’t until the Kingsburg Jr. Women’s Club (of which I was a member) decided to start fund raising for a new pool that I got involved. As things progressed others spoke up and eventually, we had a small but diligent group to get this job done: John Wright, Judy Souza, Corliss Logan, Coach Crandall, Steve Safarjian, Tom Marshall, and myself. This group worked tirelessly for five years 1987-1992. We fundraised by nickel and dime, always being supported with Coach Crandell’s positive feedback. We received $400,000 dollars from California Parks and Recreation through Rose Ann Vuich. This group travelled to various other pool complexes in the valley to get input and ideas for our new pool. It was during this time that I picked Coach Crandell’s brain for a plan to restart the Kingsburg Seawolves when this pool finally got built. I remember discussing with him the possibilities of getting the team going but we were faced with an incomplete pool. I asked him his opinion and what should I do. He gave me the encouragement to start organizing and have sign ups. Coach Crandell’s inspiring motto applied more than ever, “Winners Never Quit and Quitter’s Never Win.”
The best part of this story was when I asked Coach Crandell to go with me to the CVRSL meeting in Visalia one evening. (Central Valley Recreational Swim League) Coach and I walked in and said Seawolves were back. We wanted in the swim meet line up for the summer. Coach knew the process and I was grateful for his knowledge that night. It warmed my heart when each one of those CVRSL members came up to Coach and shook his hand saying “Welcome Back”.
Spring of 1992 I had Seawolves sign-ups, Ed and Pam Elzarian helped me that night in the Lincoln School cafeteria. We registered over 100 swimmers. I had no clue what I was doing but I had had enough experience with clubs, parents, and children and I fumbled through the first season. Construction continued through spring and into summer. We had to make adjustments. Practices were held at the Parlier Community pool and we never hosted a meet that first summer back. But we made significant progress on creating some awesome swimmers and we sent a small group to Valley Finals. As our pool committee kept working hard to find more money to finish the pool and so many other things, we decided that this pool complex would be named after Coach Sam Crandell. It was with great joy that day in October 1992 that we dedicated the Crandell Swim Complex with Coach Sam Crandell in attendance. Personally, he will always be my greatest mentor. He was a man of few words, but had a huge heart. We remained friends until his death.
How Do Current Seawolves Feel About The Team?
Annie Vargas-Abernathy: Last year we had to cancel the entire season because of COVID. This summer we are having a “Covid” normal season. Social distancing, masks and having “Virtual” swim meets. A virtual swim meet is staying at Crandall swim complex with only our team, running a swim meet with our kids only, and then recording and sending in our times. Then, the opposing team does the same and times are compared and then placed. We then get a print out with places and wins! Not as fun as a real meet, but still showing improvement of times!
Caley Hash and Melissa Hash Olsen, started swimming in 1991 when the pool was built. We both swam for Seawolves up through our High School years and swam for KHS as well. We remember how exciting the new pool was. We’ve always loved our pool the best. We both had the best memories growing up at the pool, being with friends, swimming, running around the meets, it was the best of times. Coach Richard Blick was a huge part of our love for swim team. We hold him dear to our hearts. He’s one of the best! Being on Seawolves and the Kingsburg Viking swim team meant: swimming with champion swimmers, record-breaking and record-holding swimmers, and Valley champions for well over 20 years. In Kingsburg, it’s a special sport to be part of.
Melissa’s daughters Annibelle (12) and Brynlee (11) have been Seawolves since being on the 6 and under team. They love the Seawolves.
“I love swimming, and breastroke is my favorite stroke. I plan to swim all through high school. I love the swim meets,” Brynlee
“Swim team is the best, I love being with my friends, my favorite stroke is breast stroke as well. I was very proud I made it to the Valley Finals in the past,” Annibelle.
Tiffany Dix swam at the new Kingsburg pool from ‘93-96 for Seawolves and KHS swim teams. She has 3 children that all started swimming for Seawolves, from Seapups’ 6 and under age groups (2013) to today. Tiffany has many special memories of Coach Blick and being on the swim teams. Her Daughter Maddy (12) said, “I love it! It’s such good exercise and a fun sport to be in, especially in the hot summers. I like being with my friends.”
Mark Unruh started swimming in 1992, his junior year of high school because he needed p.e. credit. Once on the team, he realized he was a really good swimmer. He was also on Seawolves and the KHS water polo teams. He went on to swim for Cal Poly for 4 years. He still swims on his lunch breaks, which is over 100,000 yards a year. He shared, “One of my favorite quotes from Coach Blick during our workouts was, ‘I want you to practice like I buy carpet, wall to wall, no breaks or gaps in the middle.’”
Almost every Kingsburg citizen was a Seawolves swimmer, or knows someone who was. Seawolves’ multigenerational impact is alive and well in our town… and it looks like it will continue for generations to come.