By Jaclyn Shambaugh

When Oscar Roverato first came to Fayetteville, some 14 years ago, he saw a lot of potential in swimming, a sport he said had yet to really land in the city.

"I said, 'There's so much potential here, so many athletes,'" he said.

Ever since, he's been working to grow the sport's reach in Fayetteville and give kids a chance to learn and compete in swimming.

Roverato has been coaching swimming in Fayetteville for more than a decade, starting the Fayetteville Flying Fish swim team in late 2005.

"I was the aquatics director at the Y before I started the team," Roverato said. "Just for a short period of time."

The Fish worked out of the YMCA then, using the Y's indoor pool or sometimes the city-run Chalmers Pool or Fayetteville State's pool for practices.

Roverato and the Fish moved to Fort Bragg in 2010, renaming the team, then officially sponsored by the post's Directorate of Morale, Wefare and Recreation, the Fort Bragg Fighting Fish.

The Fort Bragg team lasted a little over a year until Roverato says budgets cuts nixed the program.

Undeterred, Roverato started up his own swim team, finally ditching the Fish name in favor of Fayetteville Aquatics Swim Team, or FAST.

The swimming scene in Fayetteville is far different from the one Roverato left in his native Italy when he came to the United States to finish his master's degree.

Coached in Italy

Roverato was a club-level swimmer as a teen and went on to coach the sport in Italy, where he said it gets more exposure than it does stateside.

"The culture is different," Roverato said. "A lot of the big time races, like the Grand Prix, are on television. Here, it's only every four years with the Olympics."

Nonetheless, Roverato said there is plenty of interest in the sport, especially among young competitors.

Roverato has a knack for bringing out the best in young swimmers.

Brynn Manning's two children, Colin, now 26, and Gillian, now 20, trained with Roverato as youth swimmers.

"My daughter went from being someone who wouldn't look people in the eye and was incredibly shy to someone who is now confident," said Manning, who is now one of six FAST assistant coaches. "Oscar pushes her. He makes her work. But at the same time, it's a place where she's felt safe enough to become a person."

FAST has ballooned since its inception in 2013.

Roverato said he has close to 125 swimmers at various age and skills levels, with 50 being regular competitors on the state short- and long-course circuits.

FAST practices exclusively at the FSU pool, but Roverato said the team is limited to two-hour practice sessions five days a week.

He points out that, as strong as the team's growth has been, it's likely been hobbled by the lack of swimming facilities.

"The outdoor pools that the city has now, you can only use them three months," Roverato said. "And even in the summer, the weather can be a problem."

The turnover of the military population is another obstacle.

"We have to compete against teams that have kids from the time they're 8 to 18 years old," Roverato said. "I only have some kids two years. They might come from a post that only has recreational swimming. You've got to build up their technique. They're getting good, and then they're on to the next place."

Roverato said none of those challenges - not the lack of facilities or the transient community - will make him shy away from swimming.

"For me, it's all about the kids," Roverato said. "Even we can even give one kid an opportunity to learn the sport, go to college on a scholarship, it's worth it."

Community sports writer Jaclyn Shambaugh can be reached at 609-0651