Waterdogs at work in Cleveland, Tenn.

Waterdogs at work in Cleveland, Tenn.

June 4th, 2012 by Randall Higgins in News

Truman Hale, 9, left, Luke Hunt, 8, and Keira Bundy, bottom, listen to their mentors at the pool at Shepherd Mosby Park in Cleveland, Tenn., on Thursday. Children from all areas of Bradley County participate in the program that teaches children how to swim and allows them to be a part of the swim team, the Waterdogs.

Truman Hale, 9, left, Luke Hunt, 8, and...

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Just after sunrise, a group of teens and near-teens gets in the Shepherd Mosby Park Pool.

Before the pool opens to the public each day, hundreds of kids will show up to learn how to swim and how to compete.

A decade ago, the pool -- part of the College Hill Recreation Center -- was much less used. But the city devoted local and federal dollars to upgrade the entire complex. Now the pool, located in a mostly minority neighborhood, attracts kids from all parts of town.

The group of teens and near-teens -- dubbed the Waterdogs -- have a lot to do with the growing popularity, too, said Karen Snider, a founding parent of the team and mother of Kristy Snider, who coordinates Waterdog activities.

The Waterdogs organized at Mosby because there were too many who wanted to join the AquaTigers competitive swim team at Tinsley Park. The Waterdogs have added swimmers each summer, until now as many as 150 kids take lessons or practice on weekday mornings, Snider said.

Last year, the Waterdogs won their division in the Chattanooga Swim League. Both the Waterdogs and the AquaTigers are among the league's 16 teams.

Waterdogs is not a fanciful team name. The park and pool memorialize Shepherd Mosby, a World War I veteran who trained dogs to guard America's coasts and rescue sailors.

One of the Waterdogs' most important aspects is the way the older kids help the younger swimmers. "Something we are very proud of is the mentoring program," Snider said.

Christian Torbett is one of the mentors.

"I have always been around the water since I was little. I think it's a great way to pass it on to younger kids," he said.

"At the meets they come up and ask us how they did," he said. "And before they get on the block at each race, we give them little pep talks."

Bristol Snider, Kristy's sister, said she enjoys mentoring "almost more than swimming."

"It's really fun to watch them get better. Some have never swam before," Bristol said.

Taylor Pruett said the mentors are really close to each other, too.

"Mentors have outings of our own," he said. "And we get to connect with the junior mentors, too."

Eligio Urani's first day as a junior mentor was Thursday, and he wore a toboggan just like Christian, his favorite mentor.

Jordan Fox, 12, another a junior mentor, said the job is "really cool because the stuff you learn you get to pass on."

The city's pools are a focal point for summer, said Patti Pettit, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

The new pool at the Cleveland Community Center in south Cleveland will be ready in a few days, she said, and Tinsley Park's pool and its playground are also getting improvements.