By Ben Herman, Youth and Government Member
As a member of the YMCA from an early age, I spent a lot of time involved in Y activities during my childhood. One program always stood out among the rest as the most prestigious and well known in my mind. This was the Stingers Swim Team. But how did this program rise to such a high level in our community and even gain regional and statewide attention? Find out in this second historical article made in celebration of 150 years of the Cortland YMCA.
In the early years of the Cortland YMCA, the facilities that the organization met in did not have swimming facilities. This changed when the YMCA moved into their own building for the first time. The new building, which was built in 1914, hosted many things that had been lacking in the old rented buildings, including a modest 18 X 42-foot pool. This was relatively rare in the United States at the time as pools did not see a boom in sales until after World War 2. With the first recorded lessons being given in 1920, the YMCA created a tradition of providing high-level swimming experiences to the Cortland community.
However, the pool did have some limitations to it. First, he was not heated and therefore could not be used in the winter. Additionally, it was not a regulation length pool, so organizing a competitive swimming team was not an easy task. Despite these problems, the Cortland YMCA’s first recorded swimming campaign was in 1958. The numbers on the swim team stayed small until the opening of a new YMCA building. After years of planning and execution, the Tompkins Street location of the Cortland YMCA opened in 1967. This opening led to an explosion of the swim team, as the new building had a regulation-sized, year-round pool.
During the early years of competition, boys and girls had separate teams. The boys were known as simply the YM Swim Team, while the girls were called the YMCA Dolphins. The girls earned a lot of the early success of the program, winning their first district championship in 1968. The next year, the girls state swim meet was held at the Cortland YMCA. Eventually, the two swim teams combined into one, and by 1974 a unified Cortland swim team emerged. It was at this time the team adopted its current name, the Stingers. The years that follow this event mark the emergence of the Cortland YMCA swim program on a regional and national stage.
This surge was started in 1977 when the Cortland YMCA’s 9 and 10-year-old boys squad took home Cortland’s first ever state title. This achievement was followed up the next year by an incredible record set by swimmer Dave McNeil. McNeil became the first youth swimmer in New York State to win three separate events in the State Championships. His performance helped lead the 11 and 12-year-old Cortland boys to a second place finish in that year’s State Championships. The team, led by Coach Dick Williams, helped establish the legacy of the Stingers program as a whole as it created a tradition of success for future teams to follow. Evidence of this growth in the team comes from the number of swimmers increasing from 27 in Williams’ first year as a coach, to averaging 60 in his 14th year of coaching. The popularity of the team in the area led to Cortland being selected to host the 1982 State Championships. The next year that same powerful team ended up finishing 8th in the national swim meet that consisted of over 400 teams.
Since then, the Cortland Stingers have continued to enjoy great success. Still, Cortland swimmers set records and win regional, state and national titles. Despite Cortland’s small size, the Stingers have gained recognition for being able to compete with larger teams and enter each swim season one of the teams to beat.
The swim team also fills a deeper role in the community as well. This core program of the Cortland YMCA helps promote both the healthy living and youth development aspects of the Y’s cause. In addition, the hard work that each kid must put forth to succeed on the team helps develop self-confidence and self-discipline. Finally, the team fosters a competitive spirit that leaves the desire for success imprinted on each member of the team. Even with a foundation in physical activity, the Cortland Stingers Swim Team, with its tradition of success, serve a greater purpose for Cortland youth.