The Payson Pikes summer swim season wrapped up with a rock-solid performance at the Verde Valley Invitational.
There, 15 Pikes team members battled against swim teams from around northern Arizona including Sedona, Camp Verde, Kingman and Cottonwood.
“The team brought home an armload of medals for finishing in the top three in their races,” said Pikes team spokeswoman Chris Giarrizzo.
In fact, four Pikes swam their way to high-point trophies in their respective age divisions.
High-point winners included Julie Gibson, Catalina Coppelli, Emily Giarrizzo and Terena Ward.
For the four and the other Pikes team members, the Verde Valley meet marked the culmination of a splash campaign that began May 30 at a community meet that earned $900 for the swim program.
The season tipped off in earnest on June 6 with an intrasquad meet that drew 75 Pikes.
During the season, the Wendy Ward-coached Pikes hosted the Sedona Swordfish, Cottonwood Clippers and Camp Verde.
In July, Emily Giarrizzo represented the Payson team at the Gilbert Swim Championships where she showed well even though she was a 9-year-old competing against swimmers 10 years of age.
Throughout the campaign, Ward put the swimmers through a rigorous practice regime that included early morning hour weekday sessions at Taylor Pool and meets on Saturdays.
The local swim team has its roots in 1986 when Payson High School English teacher Jim Quinlan was hired to manage Taylor Pool.
At the very onset of taking over management of the pool, he founded the team allowing the young swimmers to select the mascot.
He believes the youth chose the Pike, after scanning some aquatic books, because it’s an aggressive predatory fish that is also very menacing looking with a torpedo-like body and sharp teeth.
Although the team had only four swimmers show up for the first practice, the team quickly became the hit of the summer sports campaign. At its peak, close to 180 team members competed.
“We had so many kids go through the program,” Quinlan said.
“We tried to teach them that you could work hard and still have fun.”
Quinlan remembers that many who swam for the Pikes had other summer responsibilities.
“Some were playing Little League or were in high school sports, but most usually found a way to work out in the morning,” he said. “They had full schedules.”
Quinlan recalls the Pike swim team as an integral part of many Rim Country teenagers’ maturation and learning process.
“They had to get up early (6:30 a.m.), get out of bed in the summer and accomplish something,” he said.
“That was tough for some, but they learned from it.”
Today, the Payson Pikes swim team remains a very popular aquatic option at Taylor Pool.
“I’m glad the team is still going,” Quinlan said.
“It’s something many kids really need.”
If there is a success story in the history of the Pikes it would feature Austin White, 31.
The fable would center on him being a swimmer who used the Pikes as a springboard to success.
After learning to swim at Taylor, he became a lifeguard, a swim team coach, aerobics instructor, pool manager and then a wild animal trainer at San Diego SeaWorld.
A year ago, he turned in his SeaWorld wetsuit to train dolphins and sea lions for a national defense contractor in San Diego.
White once attributed the skills he learned at Taylor Pool and as a Pike for helping him nail down the job of his dreams.