The Sea Lion Legacy
By Mike Copeland (updated 2012)
Crow Canyon Country Club Sea Lions swim team has emerged as one of the preeminent recreation swim clubs in the Bay Area, if not the state of California. Finishing up the club’s sixth consecutive undefeated Valley Swim Association league season and seventh consecutive Contra Costa County Championships, the team of youth swimmers has established a remarkable legacy of swimming excellence. Led by a devoted coaching staff, a collection of talented young athletes and a committed group of parent volunteers, the Sea Lion’s program maintains a level of excellence envied by competitors near and far. However, as the team begins their 32nd year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the team history and how the Sea Lions came to be.
In the summer of 1978, Crow Canyon Country Club Pool Manager, Rick Fields and a loyal group o f member parents, including Anne and Tony Brennan (current 7/8 age group swimmer Katie Mitchell’s grandparents), Roger and Tina Kageyama and Maryann and Jerry Stumpf and Barbara and Bob Mc Calmont established the Sea Lion team. The initial objective of the program was to make it a fun recreational activity for families of the club. With a core group of thirty swimmers, the first year goal was to grow the team large enough to afford an experienced coach. That first summer, the team was coached by Rick and a few of the club’s life guards. The Sea Lions competed against other small swim clubs as far away as Albany. By 1979, the Sea Lion team roster had grown to seventy swimmers which allowed CCCC to hire Tracy Wedemyer as the team’s first official head coach. “We were begging families to join throughout the off-season”, said Anne Brennan. “But our efforts paid off”. Thanks to swimmers Sam Stander, Robin Stanko, Yvonne Bennett, Andy Eckel and Mark McCalmont the team picked up their first league victory that year. A successful Swim-A-Thon and Bake Sale allowed the team to raise enough money to afford team swim suits, stop watches and starting blocks. The starting blocks were designed and constructed by Crow Canyon Country Club member, Jack Bennett providing quite a savings to the team.
Jane Brennan Mitchell (1978-1989), Anne’s daughter and Katie’s mom, was on the team from its inception. Jane says, “From the beginning there was a real sense of community. We weren’t very good and we didn’t have a lot of swimmers, but we had so much fun”. Once Jane and her husband, Glen, were finally able to return to and settle in Danville, they promptly signed their daughter up to be on the Sea Lions. Jane, who started swimming for the club when she was seven says because of her wonderful memories of summers spent with the Sea Lions she never considered any other swim club. “I watch Katie playing around with the coaches in the pool or after practice and it brings back such wonderful memories”, Jane adds.
Pete Knoedler, and his sister Amy Knoedler Chambliss, both parents of current Sea Lion swimmers, swam for Diablo Country Club as kids in the mid 70’s and to late 80’s. Pete and Amy remember swimming against CCCC when the team was fondly known as Slow Canyon. “As bad as Diablo was, we always knew Crow Canyon was the one team we could beat”, Amy says with a chuckle.
By 1984, behind the strong coaching of Penny Powell, Carol Kellagher and Steve Pitzer, the team finished with a winning record posting an impressive 6 wins/1 loss record (3 wins/1 loss in league). That news was reported in a special edition of the Sea Lion Sentinel, a parent published team newsletter. “Led by swimmers John DePiper, Tug Brennan, Justyn LeDrew (Connor Doyle’s aunt), Samantha Lewis and Karen Elgaaen the season had many highlights including a strong showing at the Greenbrook 12 and Under Invitational. Equally successful was the club’s annual Swim-A-Thon organized by Nancy Tatarka and a series of prosperous fundraising bake sales, featuring gourmet pastries, at each home meet.”
Zack Smith (1984-1989) and his sister, Lauren Smith (1986-1996) both fondly remember swimming for some pretty bad Sea Lion teams. Zack refers to those summers as organized chaos. He still remembers the old starter’s guns startling him as a little kid. Lauren’s fondest memories revolve around qualifying for the County meet and anchoring the free relay team. “They used to call me The Motorboat”, she proudly state. Together the siblings remember being dominated by Del Amigo and desperately wanting to beat DAPA every year. The team was led Penny Leach and her husband, John, who was a San Ramon Valley High School chemistry teacher and high school swim coach. Top swimmers of that time included Matt and Melissa Acolla, Katie Heim, Carl Parisi, Adam Keane, Samantha Lewis and Amy Sneed. Amy says that her family is still close friends with many of the Sea Lion families from that time period. “It was a real sense of family and friendship”, Katie affectionately recalls.
Ashlee Fox (1995-2001) remembers her father making her swim in a lake every day of her three week summer vacation in Michigan so she didn’t come back slower and behind the rest of her teammates. It paid off as she was represented the team at County and was named Swimmer of Year for the 13/14 age group. “We were a small team in terms of numbers, but we had a lot of heart”, Ashlee pronounced. Ashlee, along with Nina and Stephanie Davi, Chris Glass, Lauren Brochie, Cori Grundmeier, Katherine Brandt, Terrie Waterman and Sean Gruendl were the core of a strengthening Sea Lion team. “We were all very close friends and that made a big difference when we competed”, Ashlee added. The Gruendl family eventually added brother, Byron and sister, Jacquie to the team. Their mother Darlene worked on the board for many years and their father, John, is widely regarded as the preeminent swim meet public address announcer in the Contra Costa County.
Miranda Schneider, who has been a member of the team for twelve years (1998-2010) as a swimmer and junior coach would like to see the club bring back some of the great traditions lost. “The overnight Santa Cruz beach campout, a day trip/picnic to Rock City with the coaches, Greek games (tug-o-war, water balloon toss, watermelon and t-shirt relays), movie night, family pot luck dinners and Survival Week were what made this team so special”.
Thanks to the efforts of wonderful coaches past and present, most recently Dan Cottam, Ethan Hall, Dave Madden, Matt Struemph and now Jake Schroeder, the team is enjoying an unprecedented level of dominance. There has also been an incredible succession of phenomenal swimmers including Danielle Orlandi, Marina and Rachel Smith, Madison and Forrest White, Gianna Garcia, Danielle Taylor, Natalie Amberg and Conner Doyle to name just a few. The Crow Canyon Country Club Sea Lions have built a recreation swim team dynasty to be admired and emulated.
As any sport fan will tell you, every dynasty (San Francisco Forty-Niners, New York Yankees, UCLA Bruins Basketball or the De La Salle Spartans football team) has a legacy. Today’s club families owe a debt of gratitude to the legacy of pioneering Sea Lions families for getting the program up and running more than thirty years ago. Good luck to the Sea Lions for a successful 2012 Season.