USA Swimming is the all-encompassing umbrella that the greats swim under. It is the national governing body for swimming in the United States. That means household names like Olympians Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin boast national team status under USA Swimming.

About a year ago, Stephanie Wakefield, head swim coach for the Margate Sharks, filled out the application to make her team a faction of USA Swimming. After a probationary period of one year, the Sharks are set to become part of the club in April.

"It opens the doors for more swimmers to compete at a higher level," Wakefield said. "We are now one of those competitive teams."

The first sanctioned meet for the Margate Sharks was at the New Jersey State Swim Meet in Sewell at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology Natatorium Dec. 14 and 15. Wakefield said 33 Sharks swam in the meet.

Niki Cautilli, 11, finished first in the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle, and finished third in the 200 individual medley.

The team, which Wakefield thought was ready for fiercer competition last year, boasts a lot of young talent, especially Cautilli, who is among the team's older crowd.

"At ages 8 to 10 is when a swimmer really wants to get committed," Wakefield said. "It takes commitment and a combination of natural talent (to pursue goals)."

Besides offering local swimmers a competitive edge, being part of USA Swimming also allows the Sharks to travel. The Sharks had their first out-of-state meet at the Pirate Plunge Meet at the University of Delaware Jan. 4 for the 8-and-under swimmers.

Traveling allows the swimmers to experience professional, competition-grade pools.

USA Swimming also teaches swimmers to perfect their technique. In the local league, swimmers were not always disqualified for improper strokes, but in USA Swimming meets, they are.

"With USA Swimming, our kids are really learning about their strokes, they can get (disqualified)," Wakefield said. "So these meets are helping them at practice too."

The Milton and Betty Katz JCC, where the team practices in Margate, hosts the Lenny Krayzelburg JCC Swim Academy, which acts as a feeder program for the Sharks. The academy hopes to inspire children of all ages to swim and be safe in the water.

Lenny Krayzelburg is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, and his swim academy is offered only at 11 JCC locations in the country.

This program, Wakefield said, is a good way to discover if a swimmer has goals and aspirations to pursue a swimming career, such as college swimming.

However, Wakefield has personal aspirations beyond having coached swimming on and off for the last 14 years.

"I've always dreamed of coaching an Olympian," Wakefield said.

All kids ages 5-18 are welcomed on the Sharks; however, Wakefield would like each new swimmer to be able to swim the length of the pool. It is recommended that children under 8 years old be able to swim freestyle and backstroke, while older youths should have an understanding of freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breast stroke.

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