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July 10, 2014

LOCAL SPORTS: Swimming a family affair for district-, state-bound Catfish

CULLMAN — There’s a bond bringing together the Cullman Swim Team and, surprisingly, it isn’t water.

For an overwhelming number of the local squad’s swimmers, it’s blood.

A quick combing of the Catfish roster reveals five Hilbs, four Ogstads, and three Windhams and Snapps. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with an additional 21 duos made up of either siblings or coaches and their kids, not to mention the members who are cousins — the latter is the case for the Hilbs with the Windhams and Gentrys.

Needless to say, the CST is a family affair. Head coach Alison Norris wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It truly is,” she said. “For one thing, it’s really easy as parents if you have multiple kids, you come to one place for practice, you come to one place to compete.

“That’s what my mom did. Growing up, she was like, ‘You guys are swimming in the summer, and you aren’t doing anything else.’ It’s easier for the parents, and the kids love it.”

Being raised in a swimming family was fun for Norris. She took up the sport at the age of 8 and was ushered to meets with her younger siblings, Susan, 6, and David, 4. Because David was so young, Norris remembers her mother mentioning he wore arm floaties to practices sometimes.

“This was way back when,” she said.

Like most siblings, the Norris girls were competitive. When asked which was the better swimmer, Alison only briefly hesitated.

“Ummmm, I was,” the coach said. “Of course I was (laughs).”

That competitive spirit is alive and well in the Ogstad sisters — Hannah, 12, and Claire, 11 — especially in the breaststroke. The two are swimming in the same division this summer and feed off each other’s quick times.

Throw younger brothers Cooper and Reagan into the equation, and the final formula is a pool full of Ogstads. Claire and Hannah both relish the family foursome for the simple fact they can cheer each other on. Hannah also likes the strength-in-numbers aspect considering the increased amount of points the Ogstads can produce for the team.

Hannah and Claire have both boys covered the few times the tykes overlap events. The girls happily divvy up the rooting responsibilities and are usually in store for some pretty close finishes for the top spots.

Even more than any end result, it’s generally enjoyable just to watch the little guys go.

“They’re so tiny. They aren’t worried about anything,” Claire said. “They just wanna swim. They just have fun.”

According to Norris, Reagan and Cooper aren’t so much competitive as they are spastic. Not that she’s complaining. The squirts are just 8 after all.

“The big thing with them is mainly just trying to keep their attention for the full hour,” Norris said with a laugh. “They want to do cannon balls off the side. But once they get in, they’re pretty good.”

Stripped down to a sporting perspective, family easily falls under the ultimate form of team. Claire only sees it as positive the Catfish have so many siblings and relatives striving for the same goal.

“Most everybody on the swim team has a family member that’s also on the swim team,” she said. “We all just cheer for each other.”

As Norris is quick to point out, the kids aren’t the only ones making noise during meets, either. The more children involved, the louder the older audiences become as well.

“Big families aren’t as common as much anymore, so when we get the big families, I love having them,” she said. “You can pretty much count on those parents to help out, too. And they usually get into it.”

The CST will kick off the District II Championship with diving Thursday in Fort Payne. Swimmers will follow suit Friday and Saturday in Boaz.

Those who qualify will advance to the state meet July 24-26 at the Birmingham CrossPlex.

See a breakdown of the CST’s extensive family tree below:

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