Club swimming in Payson has taken a giant leap forward thanks to a commitment from one of the Valley’s finest youth coaches and the dedication of a local fledgling coach.
Joe Zemaitis, coach of the reigning state champion Swim Neptune in Scottsdale, has agreed to help host swimming lessons two times each week in the Tonto Apache Tribe pool south of Payson.
Zemaitis brings to the Rim Country 16 years of competitive swimming experience and international plaudits as a professional triathlete.
In 2002, Zemaitis founded Swim Neptune, a year-round swimming club that has grown to include six Valley locations.
In Payson, Amity Justice, who has recently been certified as a USA Swim coach, will assist him.
Chris Giarrizzo, a parent who has been at the forefront of upgrading the swimming program in the Rim Country, believes having Zemaitis and Justice in Payson is a golden opportunity.
“Now we have the opportunity for up to 24 kids to join the team and train right here in Payson and compete at USA swimming events around the state,” she said.
Among those who will reap benefits, Giarrizzo said, are local children and teens who want to participate in USA swimming level programs, but cannot commit to traveling to the Valley for workouts.
She touts Zemaitis as an age group coach of the year and says, “Our kids will be a part of the best team in the state.”
Giarrizzo cautions, however, space in the practices will be limited to just 12 children in two groups — beginner and intermediate.
For parents who do not know in which to place their children, Zemaitis will be at Tonto Pool on kick-off night, Dec. 6, to help correctly place the young swimmers in one of the two groups.
At 4:30 p.m. on that day, lessons will be held for the beginning group. At 6:30 p.m. the intermediate swimmers will take to the pool.
Giarrizzo’s best advise for parents unsure of placement is to attend the 4:30 p.m. session to get the coach’s recommendations.
“There will also be a parent information meeting at 5:30 p.m., between workouts, so if your child is an intermediate swimmer, please be there (at that time) for the meeting,” Giarrizzo said.
Following the kick-off session, lessons will be held every Wednesday and Friday at the reservation pool. The beginning group will meet 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. and the intermediates will practice 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.
Justice will instruct most of the practice sessions using workouts provided by Zemaitis.
Also, there is the possibility that Saturday morning workouts for both groups could be added in the near future.
Those who participate must join USA Swim, Giarrizzo said, “for insurance purposes, but it will enable the child to participate in swim meets when they feel comfortable to do so.”
Also, she said, “There is no obligation to participate in meets with Swim Neptune, nor are there any volunteer hour requirements of special assessments common with other club teams.”
Having Swim Neptune come to Payson marks the culmination of an effort that began began years ago when two girls, Emily Giarrizzo, Chris’s daughter, and Julie Gibson began traveling twice each week to Scottsdale to participate on the swim team.
In August, four other youths — Blair Chance, Garrett Chance, Caroline Morse and Catalina Coppelli — joined the team and began commuting to the Valley for lessons and meets.
While Chris Giarrizzo is elated her efforts to bring more swimming opportunities to Rim Country have been realized, the success is not the end of her quest.
“Now we need funding to get Taylor Pool covered so we can have a high school swim and dive team and more room to expand a youth swim team,” she said. But wait, there’s even more.
Covering Taylor will also mean, Giarrizzo reasons, “Additional year-round aquatic programs like swim lessons and water aerobics.”
Wow, if Giarrizzo has her way, Payson might someday be known as the small-town swim capital of Arizona.